In Collapse in Mumbai, Hopes Fade on Rescues

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MUMBAI, India -- After rescuing 33 people and finding 40 dead, disaster officials said Saturday evening that they did not expect to find any more survivors in the rubble of a five-story building that collapsed early on Friday morning, the fifth deadly building collapse in and around Mumbai this year.

"The rescue operation has reached its final stages," said Alok Avasthy, commandant of the National Disaster Response Force. The last survivor was pulled out at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, he said. "After that we have been finding only dead bodies."

The authorities have begun investigating the possible causes of the 33-year-old building's collapse, Mr. Avasthy said.

One tenant, Ashok Mehta, was arrested and charged with culpable homicide and endangering the lives of others for changing the building in ways that the authorities said might have contributed to its collapse.

"There were some illegal alterations made in the building's basement that weakened the building considerably," Mr. Avasthy said. "Mumbai's salty air would have also caused erosion."

Dr. Habbu Jadav, the superintendent of a nearby hospital, said he had not yet lost hope that more survivors would be found. "We are waiting and watching," he said.

A young man leaning against the whitewashed walls in the hospital's emergency ward looked expectantly at each ambulance bringing patients in, hoping to see his cousin emerge from one of them.

"They are still finding some people who have survived for so long, so I am still keeping hope," said the man, who declined to give his name.

Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, visited the building site on Friday evening and announced that the state would pay 100,000 rupees, or about $1,600, to each family who suffered a loss.

He also promised that those responsible for the tragedy would be punished.

Responsibility for such disasters is widely shared in Mumbai, formerly Bombay and the capital of Maharashtra State.

The city's housing infrastructure is crumbling, the result of widespread neglect, corruption and a stultifying government bureaucracy.

Strict rent control laws -- almost universally condemned by economists -- play a role. Tenants paying just a few dollars a month have been able to remain in their apartments for decades and even pass them to descendants, giving landlords few incentives to invest in maintenance. New construction is often shoddy, the result of corrupt inspections and widespread acceptance of dangerous building practices.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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