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Delhi building collapse toll 66, owner caught

Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:07:08 PM, IANS

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55 killed, scores injured in Delhi house collapse

At least 55 people were killed and around 90 injured when a five-storeyed house collapsed in east Delhi's Laxmi Nagar Monday night. Scores of people are believed to be trapped under the rubble, officials   

New Delhi: Rescue workers Tuesday night continued to dig through the rubble of a collapsed five-storeyed building in east Delhi, searching frantically for the over 30 people feared still trapped. The toll in the accident has reached 66 and 74 injured, while the owner of illegally-constructed building has been arrested.

"Police arrested the owner, Amrit Singh, from Geeta Colony. He is currently in police custody at Shakarpur police station," Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said.

Amrit Singh was absconding since the building collapse. He is said to have been involved previously in many criminal cases, a police official said. A case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder under Indian Penal Code section 304 has been registered against him.

Hopes of finding any survivors from the rubble more than 24 hours after the collapse are clearly dimming. Relatives trying to locate their kin are already assuming the worst though the rescue operation continues unabated.

"The rescue operation will continue throughout the night and will go on till all the bodies are recovered. Though the chances of finding any survivors is very low, our rescue operations continue with the same zeal," said a Delhi Fire Services official.

Located in a poor working class area of the sprawling city of 17 million people, the building was home to many families from Bihar and West Bengal who migrate to the capital for a living because of limited opportunities back home.

The morning light Monday brought a sense of the scale of the disaster at the site - rescue workers, police and fire personnel swarming the debris-strewn area, even as the wails and shouts of relatives searching for missing kin rent the air.

The building, located in congested Lalita Park locality near the Yamuna river in east Delhi, collapsed around 8.15 p.m. Monday.

Three nearby buildings have been evacuated, with the residents staying in make-shift camps on the roadside.

Among those keeping vigil at the crash site was a distraught Jamuna Devi, whose 15-year-old son was standing outside the building when it went down like a pack of cards.

The stunned mother pleaded that someone should save her son. "He spoke to my other son on his mobile phone last night. He was crying and saying that he was still trapped inside," Jamuna Devi told IANS.

Since morning, however, the phone has been switched off. Similarly, the cries and sounds of mobile phones ringing from beneath the rubble had started to subside with every passing hour.

"We are not hearing any of the mobile phone rings or the people crying from under the debris. There are about 30 people still missing," said Satyavrat Insa, a volunteer with a non-governmental organisation.

Rescue workers still officially claimed that they hoped to find people alive, but admitted that chances were dim. "The last person brought out alive was at about two p.m.," said Insa.

For those looking for their relatives, Tuesday was a day of rushing from one hospital to another. At Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Hospital, the gate of the emergency department had become a wall of photographs of dead victims.

Some others searched through the list of injured with the hope of finding the name of their kin.

Meanwhile, the government machinery has started cranking its familiar tune, pledging to take action against the guilty and against any unauthorised structures.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has ordered a magisterial enquiry into the building collapse, and asked for the report to be submitted by deputy commissioner (east) in ten days.

"Stringent action should be initiated whichever department is responsible for this tragedy of this enormity," she said.

"There is definitely negligence on the part of the MCD," said Dikshit, describing the accident as "unprecedented". "Without an NOC (no objection certificate), no building is considered liveable. It was an unauthorised building."

The MCD, in turn, blamed the Delhi government's flood and irrigation department for not checking the water in the building's basement. "The building is located on the river bed of Yamuna and with the heavy seasonal rainfall and the recent flood, water reached the building foundation and weakened the structure and resulted in the collapse," said Yogendra Chandolia, chairperson of the MCD's Standing Committee.

Lt.Governor Tejinder Khanna said that the Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee, has been asked to do a survey of the congested Shahadra municipal zone in East Delhi.

"Any building found unsafe will be considered for retro-fitting. But if a building is found not worth that, then it will be sealed and demolished. There has always been a question mark on the safety of buildings in this area," said Khanna.

A steady stream of Delhi government officials - starting from the lieutenant governor, the chief minister, state cabinet members to senior officials - visited the accident site and hospitals where the dead and the injured were taken to.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi visited the Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Hospital, one of four hospitals where the injured were being treated.

The state government announced a compensation of Rs.2 lakh to the families of those who killed in the accident and Rs.1lakh in case the victim was a minor. The injured will be given a compensation of Rs.50,000 each.

The Delhi government has requested the Residents Commissioner of West Bengal and Bihar to search for the contacts of the dead and injured people since most of the victims belonged to these two states.

Four helpline numbers have been started. Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Hospital: 23235152; Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital: 22786828; Dr.Hedgewar Hospital: 22393151/22309988; Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital: 22597262.





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