Building Collapses in India, Killing at Least 12 People

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MUMBAI, India — The news in Mumbai, an economic driver of India, was horrifying but sadly familiar. A five-story apartment building collapsed Tuesday morning, burying many residents under tons of concrete and debris.

At least 12 people died and as many as six others were feared trapped in the rubble of the collapse, whose cause was not yet known.

A severe housing shortage and lax regulation in India have resulted in too many people crowded into old, weak and substandard structures.

The building, known as the Saidarshan, was nondescript, at the end of a cul-de-sac in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of Ghatkopar, an eastern suburb of Mumbai. A nursing home, unoccupied at the time, took up the ground floor. Apartments on the upper four floors were filled with residents when the building shuddered and pitched to the ground about 10:45 a.m. Soon, cries for help, wailing sirens and desperate moans of trapped men, women and children ranging in age from 3 to 80 filled the cul-de-sac and nearby streets.

Victims’ relatives and friends hovered as a huge rescue operation, including hundreds of workers and neighbors, helped by a crane, a fire engine and dogs, prodded and pushed giant mounds of concrete and other rubble from the flattened building to reveal saris, steel pots and remnants of daily life crushed in seconds.

Mahesh Nalavade, deputy commandant of the National Disaster Response Force, said in a telephone interview from the site Tuesday night that his 40-member rescue team had retrieved 10 bodies and had just spotted two other victims whom they were trying to pry loose. Fourteen people had been pulled out alive, with most taken to local hospitals, he said, adding that he thought five or six people were still missing.

Heart-wrenching scenes played out around nearby Shantiniketan Hospital. One man crumpled to the ground in tears on learning that his father had died. A group of women cried uncontrollably as they waited for news of relatives, while others offered comfort and bottles of water.

Ramesh Sheth, 60, a financial consultant, stood outside the hospital in the late afternoon waiting for word about several relatives who had lived in the building. One had died, one was hospitalized and another was still missing, Mr. Sheth said.

Mumbai’s mayor, Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, said by telephone that he had ordered an investigation. Anyone found responsible for the collapse would be punished, the mayor said.

India’s public infrastructure projects are also substandard and collapse often, in part because political corruption leads to contracts being awarded to politicians’ relatives who are not qualified for the jobs.

Relatives of the victims said the building’s ground-floor nursing home belonged to a local politician from the Shiv Sena party. But the mayor, who belongs to the same party, denied that any of its members owned the nursing home, and the politician in question could not be immediately reached for comment.

Lakshmi Keshav Khade, 60, hurried to the Saidarshan from her apartment nearby as soon as she heard of the collapse. A former neighbor and her family had just moved in there, she said, because they needed more space.

By late afternoon, Ms. Khade had returned to her own apartment, unsure of the fate of her former neighbor. But others had seen the woman’s body being pulled from the rubble, she said.

“I’m not sure what to believe,” Ms. Khade said sadly. “Everyone is saying she’s dead.”