A multistory building collapsed in Rio de Janeiro’s center on Wednesday evening, leaving rubble strewn over a wide area, but confusion about the number of possible victims and the cause.
Thick layers of debris covered cars and motorcycles. A neighboring building sustained serious damage and television showed at least two people on its roof apparently awaiting help from firefighters.
There were differing reports about possible deaths.
A spokeswoman for the city’s civil defense department said two people were confirmed dead, but officials from city hall and the municipal health department later disputed that, saying no deaths had been confirmed by early yesterday. It was not clear how many people were injured.
Searchers were still picking through the rubble hours after the collapse.
There was a strong smell of natural gas in the area, but Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said there were doubts that a gas leak caused the accident.
“There apparently was not an explosion. The collapse occurred because of structural damages,” Paes said. “I don’t think there was a gas leak.”
Witnesses had reported hearing a loud explosion-like sound just before the building fell and a strong odor of gas hung over the scene.
It was not immediately clear how big the damaged buildings were. The one nearly destroyed was at least five stories high. It was located near Rio’s historic Teatro Municipal and the National Museum of Fine Arts, both of which appeared undamaged.
The civil defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she believed the collapsed building was for commercial use and not residential.
The explosion happened after 8pm and there were hopes that would minimize the number of people who might have been in the area.
Police cordoned off the area and electricity to the street was cut off for safety reasons.