PANAJI, India: Indian rescuers were racing on Sunday to try to save up to 20 people still feared trapped in the ruins of a partially constructed building that collapsed “like a pack of cards.”
Rescuers have so far pulled 13 bodies from the residential building that crumbled mid-afternoon on Saturday while poorly paid daily-wage laborers were working on the site in a coastal village in the tourist state of Goa.
A senior officer overseeing the rescue told Agence France-Presse some 15 to 20 people are feared still buried under the debris but the chances of finding anyone alive were “getting bleak” as time passes.
“There were some 40 people working when the building collapsed. We have pulled out 25 dead or alive so we believe [up to]20 to be still inside,” said the officer, who did not want to give his name as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The accident is the latest in a string of deadly building collapses in India that have highlighted shoddy construction standards. A huge demand for housing in India and pervasive corruption often result in cost-cutting and a lack of safety inspections.
In September a rundown residential block in the financial hub Mumbai collapsed, killing 60 people.
The officer said the known death toll for the latest collapse remained at 13 but was expected to rise during the day.
Rescue workers using cranes and bulldozers, shovels and bare hands, struggled to shift concrete slabs and other debris to try to free the laborers trapped under the building in the seaside village of Canacona, south of the state capital of Panaji.
Photos showed workers tunnelling under pancaked floors of smashed bricks, rocks and dirt to reach those trapped, after one witness told Agence France-Presse the building collapsed like “a pack of cards.”
The army joined fire and emergency workers to dig through the rubble and cut through iron rods immediately after the collapse, efforts that continued during the night Saturday.
Goa police were searching for the builder and the contractor who have gone missing since the tragedy. Officers have registered cases against them, and others involved in the building’s construction, of endangering human life, causing death and negligence.
“Both the builder and contractor have been missing while attempts are on to trace them,” police Insp. Harish Madkaikar told the Press Trust of India news agency.
Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on Saturday pledged to “immediately arrest” those found responsible for the collapse of the building, which reports said was five-storys high.
In June last year, 10 people were killed when an apartment block collapsed in Mumbai, while in April 74 people died after a seven-story building collapsed during construction on the city’s outskirts.