Delhi building collapse toll 66, over 30 still feared trapped (Roundup)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NEW DELHI - Rescue workers using saws and hammers continued to cut through concrete slabs of a collapsed five-storeyed building in east Delhi Tuesday, hoping for a miracle in the rubble, as the cries of those trapped grew fainter and stopped altogether. The death toll in Monday night’s tragedy rose to 66 and the number of injured to 71, while 30 people are feared trapped.

The absconding building owner, Amrit Singh, has been slapped with a criminal case of negligence for the collapse of the building in Lalita Park area of Laxmi Nagar, a poor working class area of the sprawling city of 17 million people. The building was home to many families from Bihar and West Bengal who migrate to the capital for a living because of limited opportunities back home.

The rescue work continued through the night but the work, officials admitted, was daunting considering the scale of the tragedy - five collapsed floors and several tonnes of brick, mortar and entire cemented floors.

The morning light Monday brought a sense of the scale of the disaster at the site - rescue workers, police and fire personnel swarming the debris-strewn area, even as the wails and shouts of relatives searching for missing kin rent the air.

The illegal construction, located in a congested locality near the Yamuna river in east Delhi, had collapsed around 8.15 p.m. Monday.

Three nearby buildings have been evacuated, with the residents staying in make-shift camps on the roadside.

Among those keeping vigil at the crash site was a distraught Jamuna Devi, whose 15-year-old son was standing outside the building when it collapsed.

The stunned mother pleaded that someone should save her son. “He spoke to my other son on his mobile phone last night. He was crying and saying that he was still trapped inside,” Jamuna Devi told IANS.

Since morning, however, the phone has been coming switched off. Similarly, the cries and sounds of mobile phones ringing from inside the rubble had started to subside with every hour.

We are not hearing any of the mobile phone rings or the people crying from inside the debris. There are about 30 people still missing, said Satyavrat Insa, a volunteer with a non-governmental organisation.

Rescue workers still officially claimed that they hoped to find people alive, but admitted that chances were dim. The last person brought out alive was at about two in the afternoon, said Insa.

For those looking for their relatives, Tuesday for them has been rushing from one hospital to another. At LNJP hospital, the gate of the emergency department had become a wall of photographs of dead victims.

Some others searched through the list of injured with the hope of finding the name of their kin.

Meanwhile, the government machinery had started cranking its familiar tune, pledging to take action against the guilty and promising action against any unauthorised structures.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has ordered a magisterial enquiry into the building collapse, and asked for the report to be submitted by Deputy Commissioner (east) in ten days.

“Stringent action should be initiated which ever department is responsible for this tragedy of this enormity, said Dikshit.

“There is definitely negligence on the part of MCD,” said Dikshit, describing the accident as “unprecedented”. “Without an NOC (no objection certificate), no building is considered liveable. It was an unauthorised building.”

The MCD in turn blamed the Delhi government’s flood and irrigation department for not checking the stagnation of water in the building’s basement. “The building is located on the river bed of Yamuna and with the heavy seasonal rainfall and the recent flood, water reached the building foundation and weakened the structure and resulted in the collapse, said Yogendra Chandolia, chairperson of MCD’s Standing Committee.

Lieutenant Governor Tejinder Khanna said that the Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee, has been asked to do a survey of the congested Shahadra municipal zone in East Delhi.

“Any building found unsafe will be considered for retro-fitting. But if a building is found not worth that, then it will be sealed and demolished. There has always been a question mark on the safety of buildings in this area, said Khanna.

A steady stream of Delhi government officials - starting from the lieutenant governor, the chief minister, state cabinet members - visited the accident site and hospitals where the dead and injured were taken to.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi visited the Lok Narayan Jai Prakash hospital, one of four hospitals where the injured were being treated.

The state government announced a compensation amount of Rs.2 lakh to the families of those who lost their lives and lakh in case the victim was a minor. The injured will be given a compensation amount of Rs.50,000 each.

The Delhi government has requested the Residents Commissioner of West Bengal and Bihar to search for the contacts of the dead and injured people since most of the victims belonged to these two states.

Four helpline numbers have been started. Lok Nayak Hospital: 23235152; Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital: 22786828; Dr.Headgewar Hospital: 22393151/22309988; GTB Hospital: 22597262.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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