x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

'Illegal' buildings in Delhi evacuated after collapse

Authorities evacuate people from dozens of buildings close to the site where a residential block collapsed, killing 67 people.

Family members of the victims of the building collapse perform last rites in New Delhi yesterday.
Family members of the victims of the building collapse perform last rites in New Delhi yesterday.

NEW DELHI // Authorities in New Delhi yesterday ordered dozens of buildings to be evacuated near a five-storey residential block that collapsed killing at least 67 people.

Fears of other collapses prompted officials to order residents to leave about 40 allegedly illegal buildings that were found to have water-logged basements - one possible cause of Monday's disaster.

Hopes of finding survivors buried under the piles of concrete slabs and iron rods faded as rescuers completed their search through the remains of the building, which had housed scores of poor migrant families.

"Stagnant water was found in the basements of 38 buildings in the district, so the inhabitants must vacate immediately for their own safety," Deep Mathur, a spokesman for the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, said.

"We will look into the issue of illegal construction later. Right now, clearing people from these buildings is our priority."

Blame for the disaster has focused on poor construction standards, water-logging from the nearby Yamuna River, and extra storeys being added illegally to the structure.

The Hindustan Times reported that 20 people were still missing at the site of the collapsed building, where bulldozers yesterday cleared rubble into lorries.

"We have taken our workers out. Only machines are active at the site now," said Gulshan Rai Insan, from a volunteer group involved in the rescue work.

"From last night, we were only finding broken furniture and household goods. We weren't pulling out dead bodies. Now there is no hope of finding survivors."

The Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said 67 people were confirmed dead, with about 100 injured.

The building contained dozens of cramped, one-room flats rented by about 60 families from the states of West Bengal and Bihar, as well as some small businesses including a cloth exporting company and a food snacks group.

Newspapers said it had originally been a three-storey structure erected at least 15 years ago. A sixth floor was thought to have been under construction.

The owner of the building was arrested at a relative's house after reportedly sleeping in a park to avoid police. He has been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Dunu Roy, the director of the Delhi-based Hazards Centre campaign group, said many housing developments in the city failed safety standards.

"Most buildings lack final clearances from the regulatory authorities and the capacity of the government to regulate private builders is close to nil," he said.

The former High Court judge Lokeshwar Prashad was yesterday appointed to head the inquiry into the accident, with orders to submit his report within three months.

Investigators will try to find out whether the building, located in a congested area of east Delhi, had been weakened by flooding after a heavy monsoon season.

After the collapse, many rescuers used sledgehammers to try to smash their way towards survivors, while others formed human chains to remove concrete piled on top of victims.

Emergency teams had trouble getting lifting gear and cranes through the narrow streets to the disaster scene.

Mohit Sarkar, 40, a vegetable vendor originally from Kolkata, had lived in the building for two years with his wife and four children.

"I was working when my niece called me and told me that the building had collapsed. I came home and found that my 12-year-old son was dead," he said.