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Mumbai building collapse search ends, toll touches 72

MUMBAI: Authorities yesterday abandoned a search for more survivors from the collapse of a seven-story building on Mumbai’s outskirts that killed 72 people, saying there was no hope of finding anybody else alive.
The cave-in of the partly finished building highlighted widespread shoddy building standards in the country where there is huge demand for housing and pervasive corruption often means cost-cutting and no inspections.
“The rescue work is now over since there is no hope of finding any more survivors,” Sandeep Malvi, Thane municipal corporation spokesman, said.
“The death toll is now 72. About 36 are injured and undergoing treatment. At least 126 people have been rescued,” he added.
Most of the victims were poor daily wage earners working at the site and their families, who were living with them. The dead included 17 children and 22 women, a local government statement said.
The building collapse late on Thursday was the deadliest since 2010 when 69 people were killed in New Delhi in a similar incident.
A 65-year-old woman was pulled from the rubble late Friday after being trapped for almost 30 hours and was in stable condition in hospital, police said.
Police have arrested the two builders responsible for construction of the structure who had fled after the disaster and filed accusations of culpable homicide against them, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said.
The building’s floors collapsed directly on top of each other like a pack of cards — a phenomenon known as a “pancake collapse” — making rescue work even tougher, said Alok Awasthi, commandant of the National Disaster Response Force.
“We are reasonably sure there is nobody there,” Awasthi said after calling off the search.
Rescue workers used sledgehammers, chainsaws, hydraulic jacks and bulldozers to break through the mass of rubble in Thane district, 35 km from central Mumbai.
“We had to proceed very slowly as any mis-step would have pushed up the death toll,” Awasthi said, according to PTI.
The Maharashtra state government has announced a probe into the incident and suspended a top civic administrator and a police officer for dereliction of duty.
Building collapses are a common occurrence in India, where a fast-expanding economy and rising real estate prices have led to a mushrooming of multi-story structures on the outskirts of cities and towns.
Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said late Friday that Thane alone had 57 “very dangerous” buildings and 1,159 “dangerous buildings” that were illegal and in which nearly 88,000 people lived.
“Thousands of illegal buildings have come up in Mumbai but none have been demolished. They have come up without permission. It’s being done without taking structural precautions,” Mumbai lawyer and activist Yogesh Pratap Singh said.
“The time has come to make municipal officer accountable along with the builders,” Singh told India’s NDTV news channel.