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Delhi collapse: Death toll rises to 70, 38 buildings declared 'unsafe'

By Sahim Salim
November 18, 2010 18:48 IST
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Rescuers continued to dig through the building collapse site in Delhi's Laxmi Nagar area for the fourth day and extricated three more bodies, taking the toll of those killed in the accident to 70 on Thursday. The rescue operations are still ongoing with many still feared to be trapped under the debris.

On Thursday morning, the body of a man believed to be in his 20s was recovered after a crane lifted boulders from the site. Rescuers, who have been working in shifts, pulled out two bodies later in the day. So far, 70 people -- 29 women, 17 children and 24 men -- have fallen victim to the building collapse. Officials fear that 20 more bodies may still be trapped at the site.

The rescued bodies however are just piling up in hospitals. "Many bodies are just lying in mortuaries, waiting to be identified. Some bodies are disfigured beyond recognition," said a doctor at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash hospital.

While anxious relatives have flocked the three hospitals treating the injured, hospital administrations have posted pictures of unclaimed bodies outside hospitals, with the hope that relatives will identify them.

The building collapse has acted as a wake-up call for civic authorities. After conducting a quick examination, many buildings in the vicinity have been declared unsafe by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.   

"The prima facie reason for the collapse is water logging at the basement of the building. When the Yamuna had flooded, the foundations of several building in low-lying areas had weakened. To add to this, several building owners had undertaken illegal constructions, adding extra floors to structures. We have conducted a survey around the area, checking for weakened basements and found 38 buildings unsafe," a senior MCD official said.

"In our survey, we found stagnant water in the basements of several buildings in the area. Evacuation of these buildings is a priority now," MCD spokesperson Deep Mathur added.

Three buildings in the Laxmi Nagar area have already been evacuated, while the MCD has given directions to residents of the other 35 buildings to evacuate as soon as possible.

"Some MCD officials visited us and checked our basement. They told us our building faces the risk of a collapse as well. They said they will be in touch with us for temporary rehabilitation and have asked us to pack our belongings," said Amjad Khan, owner of a building neighouring the one that collapsed.  Some 180 people live in Khan's four-storeyed structure.

The blame game

After engaging themselves in a blame game with the Delhi government, the MCD and the Delhi police are now passing the buck. The cops claim that they have forwarded "most of the complaints they received from residents in the area."

"Concerned residents sent us letters or intimated us about illegal constructions in the area. We then informed the MCD about all the complaints we received, but they did not act upon it," a senior police official from east district said.

The MCD, however, said they did not receive any complaints from the cops. "The police seldom cooperate with us during a demolition drive. Our job is to identify and raze illegal structures. To do this, we need security from the Delhi police," a civic official said refuting cops' claims.

'Building owner, a criminal'

The police, meanwhile, have been interrogating the owner of the collapsed structure, Amrit Singh, after a city court granted them two days custody following his arrest from a relative's house. Police sources said that Singh had spent Monday night at a local park after switching off both his mobile phones.

"He is a local criminal and has some 25 cases registered against him, which include attempted murder, theft, excise duty cases, etc. We had sought his custody to recover vital documents that will prove his ownership of the collapsed structure. We also need to investigate how he managed to construct an illegal six-floor structure in the area, without obtaining any clearance from civic agencies," a senior police official said.

Police sources said that Singh was arrested just before he was to flee to Rajasthan to his daughter's house.
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Sahim Salim in New Delhi
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