Relatives keep up vigil, but search grows bleak in India building collapse; at least 33 dead

Frantic relatives kept up a vigil Saturday at the site of a collapsed apartment building that killed at least 33 people in India's financial capital of Mumbai, as the search for survivors grew bleak.

The cause of Friday's cave-in was not known, but neighborhood residents complained of shoddy building standards and lack of upkeep — with some expressing fear that their own buildings might be next.

It was the third deadly building collapse in six months in Mumbai, which like much of India has shoddy construction practices, lax inspections and corruption that can form a deadly combination.

Rudiben Parmar sat with several weeping relatives near the rubble on Saturday, waiting for news of the last of five family members who were in the building. Three — a nephew and two of his children — had already been found dead. The nephew's wife was rescued, but the couple's young daughter was still unaccounted for Saturday morning.

Parmer said she didn't know who was to blame for the disaster, but didn't care about anything but learning of all her relatives' fate.

"We will be OK once all members of our family are recovered," she said.

Rescuers have pulled 32 people out of the rubble alive since the cave-in, but as the search operation entered its second day, most of the wreckage had been cleared and workers knew of only one person still alive under the piles of cement and bricks that remained, said Alok Awasthi, local commander of the National Disaster Response Force.

The five-story building, which housed workers for the Mumbai municipal government, caved in early Friday morning near Dockyard Road in the city's southeast, trapping dozens of people and launching an intense search mission.

Friday evening, rescuers pulled a small girl alive from the flattened remains of the building nearly 12 hours into the search, invigorating the complex mission involving hundreds of workers using crowbars, hammers and heavy machinery.

But as the search continued overnight, more bodies were found. Awasthi said the death toll had climbed to 33 by Saturday afternoon. Still, he vowed the rescuers would continue, adding that about 30 of the more than 80 people said to have been in the building were still missing.

"We are going very slowly. We are not in a hurry," Awasthi said.

The building was constructed in 1980, Awasthi said, adding that what caused it to fall down would be determined by an investigation.

But local residents complained of substandard materials and corruption as the root causes of such disasters.

"There should not be corruption in the building process. They should use best of the materials — then only the buildings will last," said Sanjay Mayekar, who lives in another apartment building next to the one that collapsed.

Some neighbors said they even feared about the safety of their own buildings.

"We can't know that tomorrow it won't be our turn," said Anupama Shivalkar, who lives in another nearby apartment block.

Two other buildings have fallen down in Mumbai this year.

At least 72 people died in April when an illegally constructed building fell down, and in June, at least 10 people, including five children, died when a three-story structure collapsed in the city.

Across India, buildings falling down have become relatively common. Massive demand for housing around India's fast-growing cities combined with pervasive corruption often result in contractors cutting corners by using substandard materials or adding unauthorized floors.