Mumbai building death toll climbs to 60 as search ends


Mon, Sep 30, 2013 - Page 5

The death toll from the collapse of a Mumbai residential block rose to 60 yesterday as rescuers ended their search with all the missing accounted for, officials said.

The five-story block in the city’s east, home to 22 families and owned by the municipal authority, came crashing down in a mass of rubble at daybreak on Friday.

“The toll has now risen to 60 and we have now called off the search for more bodies in the debris,” Mumbai deputy police commissioner Tanaji Ghadge said.

“There is no one else to search for except that the debris now needs to be cleared up,” the officer said, adding that he would lead a police inquiry into the deadly mishap.

Ghadge also said one person had been arrested over the incident, with the Press Trust of India news agency, quoting unnamed police officers, identifying the man as Ashok Mehta, who owned an office in the building.

It said the arrested man was accused of carrying out faulty and unauthorized renovation at his rented office, which is thought to have caused the collapse.

Thirty-three people were rescued alive from the rubble, National Disaster Response Force official Alok Avasthy said.

However, he said the death toll may rise depending on whether victims in hospital succumb to their injuries.

A male survivor in his 40s was the last to be pulled out from under the twisted iron bars and fallen concrete on Saturday afternoon, Avasthy said.

Over the two days of emergency operations, distraught relatives stood tearfully watching the rescue efforts, hoping family members would be pulled alive from the twisted wreckage.

Several diggers had been pressed into action to lift some of the larger slabs of concrete.

Local media said the building, about 30 years old, had been listed as needing “urgent repairs.”

Employees of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, which owned the building, and their families, were housed in the structure and had been asked to leave earlier this year.

A spokesman did not explain why the families had been asked to leave, or whether alternative accommodation had been arranged.

Local authorities said they would bear the cost of treating the injured and that compensation would be paid to families of the dead.

The cave-in was the latest in a string of building collapses in and around Mumbai in recent months, including one in April that killed 74 people.

The incidents have highlighted poor quality construction and violations of the building code, caused by massive demand for housing and endemic corruption.

The high cost of property pushes many low-paid families, especially newly arrived migrants from other parts of India, into often illegal and badly built homes.

The situation is so dire that more than half of the city’s residents live in slums. The Guardian gathered statistics showing that 2,651 people were killed across India last year from the collapse of 2,737 structures, including houses and bridges.