India building collapse toll rises

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iol pic wldindia Building Collapse Associated Press Rescuers examine a worker's body buried in the rubble of a building that collapsed during monsoon rains on the outskirts of Chennai, India. Picture: Arun Sankar K

Chennai - Rescuers have pulled 13 more bodies from the rubble of a building that collapsed last weekend in southern India, raising the death toll to at least 55, officials said on Thursday.

The 11-storey apartment tower on the outskirts of Tamil Nadu's state capital Chennai, which was still under construction, came crashing down on Saturday following heavy rains, killing mainly labourers.

Karuna Sagar, a senior officer with the Tamil Nadu state police force, said the confirmed death toll from the disaster now stood at 55 and added that chances of finding more survivors “appear bleak”.

About 27 people have been rescued from the rubble so far. It is not known how many people were inside the building at the time of the collapse.

“There is no question of winding up the rescue operations any time soon,” Sagar told AFP by telephone.

“As we've said repeatedly, the (rescue) efforts will continue till the very last,” he said.

“We don't know if there are more people buried under the debris. To find that out we have to continue the work.”

Rescuers have been working almost round the clock, using drills, mechanical diggers and heavy-cutting equipment to break through slabs of concrete.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, meanwhile, announced that a one-man commission will investigate the disaster.

The commission will look into the circumstances that led to the collapse and “fix responsibility”, she said in a statement, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

Six people have been arrested so far for negligence, including the chief builder and the architect.

The collapse came only hours after a dilapidated apartment block crumbled in New Delhi, killing 10 people including five children.

A massive influx of people to cities in search of jobs and a shortage of low-cost housing has fuelled fast construction of buildings across the country, often using substandard material.

Millions also live in dilapidated old buildings that have frequently caved in during heavy rains.

Last September, more than 50 people were crushed to death when a five-storey building collapsed in India's financial hub Mumbai.

Most of the victims of the Chennai tragedy were construction workers, who were reportedly in the building to collect their wages. - AFP

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