Rescue teams and sniffer dogs in western India searched the rubble for survivors on Tuesday after a five-storey apartment building collapsed “like a house of cards”, with up to 70 people buried.
The accident late Monday in the town of Mahad, south of Mumbai, forced three disaster response teams to work through the night, combing tin sheets, twisted metal and broken bricks.
Officials said many residents of the 47 flats inside the building were spared because they had already fled the town to escape the coronavirus pandemic.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear but building collapses are common during India’s June-September monsoon, with old and rickety structures buckling after days of non-stop rain.
National Disaster Response Force spokesman Sachidanand Gawde told reporters that emergency workers had so far retrieved the bodies of two victims.
Estimates of the number still trapped ranged from 20 to 70 after dozens managed to flee when the building began to shake.
“No one knows how many people are actually stuck inside,” a Mahad police official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that authorities had initially feared the worst, with early estimates as high as 200.
Mahad legislator Bharat Gogawale told AFP that many of the building’s occupants appeared to have been out shopping when the accident occurred around 7:00 pm.
“As per latest estimates, we think 20 people are trapped inside,” he said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was “saddened”.
“My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their dear ones. I pray the injured recover soon,” he said.
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