At least 22 killed in Tamil Nadu building collapses

Police in southern India detained two construction company directors Sunday as rescuers using gas cutters and shovels searched for workers believed buried in the rubble of a building that collapsed during monsoon rains.
Rescue workers conduct a search operation for survivors at the site of a collapsed 12-storey building on the outskirts of Chennai. Babu / Reuters
Rescue workers conduct a search operation for survivors at the site of a collapsed 12-storey building on the outskirts of Chennai. Babu / Reuters

NEW DELHI // Police in southern India detained two construction company directors on Sunday as rescuers using gas cutters and shovels searched for workers believed buried in the rubble of a building that collapsed during monsoon rains. It was one of two weekend building collapses that killed at least 22 people.

The 11-storey apartment structure the workers were building collapsed late Saturday while heavy rains and lightning were pounding the outskirts of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state. Police said 31 construction workers had been pulled out so far and the search was continuing for more than a dozen others.

Four of the workers died on the spot and another seven succumbed to injuries later in a hospital, said police officer George Fernandes.

Feeble voices could be heard from those trapped in the debris, said TS Sridhar, the disaster management agency commissioner.

Rescuers used gas cutters, iron rods and shovels after cranes lifted concrete blocks to get to the survivors.

Nearly 90 contract workers were believed to have been in the basement of the structure to collect their weekly wages when it collapsed, Mr Sridhar said, adding that the exact number of those trapped was unknown.

The collapsed structure was one of the two towers being built in the area, he said.

“Removing debris is a major challenge. It may take two to three days to clear the rubble,” said SP Selvam, who is heading the rescue operation.

Police officer Kanan said two directors of the construction company, Prime Sristi, have been detained for questioning as authorities began investigating the cause of the collapse. The officer uses one name.

Balaguru, one of the builders, said the structure collapsed possibly due to the effect of lightning.

“Usually, once the construction gets over we install the equipment to prevent the building from a thunder strike. It was nearing completion,” the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Balaguru, who uses one name, as saying.

Nearly 300 policemen and fire service workers worked overnight, looking for survivors in the debris. They used gas cutters, iron rods and shovels to reach those trapped in the rubble.

Earlier Saturday, a four-storey, 50-year-old structure toppled in an area of New Delhi inhabited by the poor. Eleven people died and one survivor was being treated in a hospital, said fire service officer Praveer Haldiar.

Most homes in that part of the capital were built without permission and using substandard materials, police officer Madhur Verma said.

The Press Trust of India news agency said the New Delhi collapse was triggered by construction work on an adjacent plot.

Building collapses are common in India, where high demand for housing and lax regulations have encouraged some builders to cut corners, use substandard materials or add unauthorised extra floors.

In April last year, 74 people were killed when an eight-story building being constructed illegally in the Mumbai suburb of Thane in western Maharashtra state caved in. It was the worst building collapse in the country in decades.

* Associated Press

Published: June 29, 2014 04:00 AM

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