MAHAD, India－Rescue teams and sniffer dogs in western India searched the rubble for survivors on Tuesday after a five-story apartment building collapsed “like a house of cards”, with up to 70 people still buried.
The accident late on Monday in the town of Mahad, south of Mumbai, forced three disaster response teams to work through the night, combing tin sheets, twisted metal and broken bricks.
National Disaster Response Force spokesman Sachidanand Gawde said that emergency workers had so far retrieved the bodies of two victims. More than 60 people have been pulled alive from the rubble of the collapsed building.
Ten people who were in the vicinity of the collapsed building have been discharged after primary first-aid for bruises, deputy district collector Padmashri Bainade said.
Officials said many residents of the 47 flats inside the building were spared because they had already fled the town to escape the coronavirus pandemic.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear but building collapses are common during India’s June-September monsoon, with old and rickety structures buckling after days of nonstop rain.
Estimates of the number still trapped ranged from 20 to 70 after dozens managed to flee when the building began to shake.
“No one knows how many people are actually stuck inside,” a Mahad police official said on condition of anonymity, adding that authorities had initially feared the worst, with early estimates as high as 200.
Mahad legislator Bharat Gogawale said that many of the building’s occupants appeared to have been out shopping when the accident occurred around 7 pm.
“As per latest estimates, we think 20 people are trapped inside,” he said.
Others had left the town altogether, preferring to wait out the pandemic in their home villages.
“Many families were not residing in the building as they went to their native places due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown,” district official Nidhi Choudhari told the Press Trust of India.
Mustafa Chafekar, a resident who had been in home quarantine after testing positive for the virus, told the Mumbai Mirror that he and his family of five initially thought they were experiencing an earthquake.
“We ran down immediately …The whole (structure) collapsed right in front of us,” the 39-year-old said of their escape.
He said residents had previously complained to the builders about the condition of the complex.
Local politician Manik Motiram Jagtap told TV9 Marathi that the structure was 10 years old and built on “weak” foundations.
“It fell like a house of cards,” Jagtap said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was “saddened”.
“My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their dear ones. I pray the injured recover soon,” he said.
The monsoon plays a vital role in boosting agricultural harvests across South Asia. But it also causes widespread death and destruction, unleashing floods, triggering building collapses and inundating low-lying villages.
Xinhua – Agencies