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Heart-rending scenes at Delhi building crash site

Last updated on: November 16, 2010 18:34 IST

Heart-rending scenes at Delhi building crash site

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Sahim Salim in New Delhi

Sahim Salim visits the site of the building crash in East Delhi and sees tragedy, neglect and official apathy.

Shruti Haldar, 16, clung to the police barricade, unsure whether to go into the site which hours ago had been her home. She prays for her parents' safety, but she is afraid of learning if the truth is bitter.

"They are still stuck inside. It has been over 18 hours. My heart says they are alive," says the little girl.

Noticing the little girl, a policeman asks her why she was trying to enter the 'crime scene'. When she tells him, he gives her a sympathetic look and says, "There is nothing you can do inside. Stay here and pray for some news."

Shruti's parents, Swagi and Neelu are one of the estimated 250 people who lived in the five-storeyed building.

The 14-year-old structure in east Delhi's Laxmi Nagar had come crashing down on Monday night at 8.15 while the many families inside were preparing food or studying.

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Also See:
In PHOTOS: East Delhi building collapse 



Image: Shruti Haldar awaits news about her parents
Photographs: Sahim Salim/Rediff.com
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'It all happened in a matter of minutes'

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Rescue officials say that at least 66 have been declared dead at three different hospitals in the city.

At least 80 people have suffered serious injuries and over 40 people are believed to be still trapped in the debris. 

"It all happened in a matter of minutes. There was a huge creaking sound and the earth shook. When we came out, there was dust all over and the entire building had just collapsed," a neighbour, Amjad Khan says.

The residents were mostly migrant labourers and their families from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Ten people stayed in single room accommodations at a rent of Rs. 2,000 a month.



Image: Rescuers using shovels, digging machines and their bare hands searched for survivors
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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'Her son's cell phone rang, but was not answered'

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Upturned ice cream carts, sewing machines, cooking utensils and other household or livelihood items lay trapped in the debris, depicting the daily life of these labourers.

As soon as the structure collapsed, locals called the fire department and the police.

Hearing screams and cries from survivors, locals began rescue work in the dark, as the electric cable had snapped during the collapse.

A local, Raja Saxena, who stays in the adjacent building says, "The fire department arrived very late. We could hear screams from the collapsed structure. A group of us got crowbars and sticks to try and remove the rubble. We could not do much though."

Saxena told rediff.com about a distraught mother, Laxmi Devi, whose son was trapped inside.

"The woman had gone to the market to buy vegetables, while her son was inside. When she came back, she let out a piercing cry and tried to rush inside. We held her back and the woman dialled her son's mobile phone. It rang, but was not answered," Saxena says.

 


Image: Rescue workers and security personnel search for survivors under the rubble. (Inset) Raja Saxena
Photographs: Parivartan Sharma/Reuters
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For survivors, a temporary tent is the new home

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Police have now taken the number and have been trying it ever since. It still rings, a police official said.

A 250-member strong National Disaster Response Force team with their specialised equipment is still working at rescuing the survivors. An additional 250 people from the Delhi police, fire department and locals are helping them.

Adjacent buildings evacuated

Three buildings adjacent to the collapsed buildings have been evacuated as police and rescue officials believe that they are bound to collapse as well.

"A temporary tent structure has been erected at the podium in a public park. Rescued and evacuated people have been relocated there," a senior police official at the site said.

One of the evacuated buildings belongs to the owner of the collapsed structure.

Just like the collapsed structure, an illegal extra fifth floor was being built there.



Image: Survivors at the temporary tent accommodation
Photographs: Sahim Salim/Rediff.com
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Illegal 5th floor + Yamuna = Delhi's worst disaster

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Reason for the crash

Rescue and government officials say that the reason for the collapse could be the recent swelling up of the Yamuna River.

A local, Shihabuddin Alam says, "When the Yamuna swelled up, all our basements had flooded with water. We had to reinforce the foundation after that."

Investigating officials say that the extra Yamuna water may have weakened the building's foundation.

"In addition, an illegal fifth floor was being constructed in the building. The weakened foundation, which was made to support four floors, may not have been able to take the extra floor's weight," a senior police official involved in the case's investigation said.

Describing the tragedy as the 'worst tragedy in recent times, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told media persons, "I think that the disaster happened because of the carelessness of the owner."


Image: Rescue workers search for survivors under the rubble of a collapsed
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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Building owner had political and civic influence

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The owner

Police officials say that the owner of the building is a businessman named Amrit Singh. A case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder has been registered against him.

The Delhi chief minister has also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident.

When rediff.com went to his house, it was locked.

The house belonging to Singh's mother was also locked. Police say that Singh and his family have been absconding ever since the building collapsed.

According to police sources, Singh is a local goon with a lot of influence in the area. Several cases have been registered against him in the local police station.

"He was declared as a 'bad character' by a local court about 20 years ago. He has five cases registered against him in the local police station, including an attempted murder and a cheating case. About three years ago, he was accused of attempting to murder his domestic help," a police source at Shakarpur police station said.

Locals claim that Singh also had political and civic influence.

"We have complained so many times to local civic agencies about his illegal constructions. None of the agencies came to investigate or demolish his buildings. Look at the collapsed building. It is attached to my building. It was so flimsy that when it came crashing down, my building stood its ground," Amjad Khan, the owner of the adjacent building says.


Image: Rescue workers remove a body from the debris
Photographs: Parivartan Sharma/Reuters
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