MUMBAI // Rescuers pulled a small girl alive from a collapsed apartment building in India’s financial capital nearly 12 hours after the structure caved in on Friday, killing at least eight people and leaving dozens trapped under the rubble.
A cheer erupted from hundreds of onlookers who began chanting “baby, baby” when rescuers working in a drizzling rain plucked the young girl out of a tunnel dug through the rubble. At least 32 people were rescued, but more than 30 others were still missing and the search continued, said Alok Awasthi, a director of the National Disaster Response Force.
Friday’s disaster was the third deadly building collapse in six months in Mumbai, in a country where shoddy construction and lax inspections make such disasters all too common.
Relatives of the missing wailed and clung to one another, as heavy machinery lifted the largest slabs of concrete away. Dozens of workers hacked away with crowbars at the flattened remains of what was once a five-story building. “My heart is thumping with fear. I’m just hoping,” said Shanta Makwana, whose daughter and grandchildren were trapped.
Twenty-two families lived in the destroyed block, said the politician Bhai Jagtap.
“The rest of the people are down below, calling people from inside. Rescuers are doing their level best to save lives,” he said.
Eight people were confirmed dead by late afternoon, Mr Awasthi said.
“We will work all night. We’ll work 24/7 without stopping until everyone is found,” he said, adding that additional rescue teams from the nearby city of Pune had been called in to assist.
The building collapsed just after 6am near Dockyard Road in Mumbai’s south-east.
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, city’s civic administrative body, said that the building was for employees of the local administration and their families, who had been asked to leave this year.
“The building was around 30 years old. We had issued a notice to them in April, to vacate the building, but they did not act,” said Vijay Khabale-Patil, the body’s spokesman.
He did not explain why the families had been asked to leave.
“My uncle and aunt have been staying here for years. I rushed here after hearing the news on TV. But the police are not telling us anything. We are just waiting,” said receptionist Neha Jagdale.
Mumbai has already seen two similar disasters this year.
At least 72 people died in April when an illegally constructed building fell down, and in June, at least 10 people, including five children, died when a three-story building collapsed.
Across India, buildings falling down have become relatively common. Massive demand for housing around India’s fast-growing cities combined with pervasive corruption often result in contractors cutting corners by using substandard materials or adding unauthorised floors.
The high cost of property in Mumbai and surrounding areas pushes many low-paid families, especially newly arrived migrants from other parts of India, into often illegal and shoddily-built homes.
More than half of the city’s residents live in slums, while across India the urban housing shortage was estimated at nearly 19 million households in 2012.
Falling buildings are a nationwide problem. The Guardian newspaper website gathered crime statistics showing that 2,651 people were killed across India in 2012 from the collapse of 2,737 structures, including houses and bridges.
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse