NEW DELHI – New Delhi on Wednesday ordered dozens of buildings evacuated near to where an overcrowded apartment building collapsed and killed 67 people — highlighting the dangerous housing conditions among the poor in India's capital.
The collapse of the crude brick five-story building Monday night shocked the city and led to the owner's arrest. Officials said he had built two floors illegally — an act that is not uncommon amid New Delhi's skyrocketing land prices. Poor construction material and inadequate foundations are also blamed for building collapses in India.
Officials said the collapsed building had also been weakened by heavy rains, and have since determined at least 38 other structures in the same Lalita Park neighborhood are damaged by water and in danger of falling.
"We have issued them notice to vacate their houses immediately for their safety," Municipal Corporation of Delhi spokesman Deep Mathur told Press Trust of India.
But those forced to leave their homes said they had nowhere to go.
Piles of pillowcases stuffed with clothing, pots, pans and picture frames lined the narrow streets of Lalita Park, a congested neighborhood in east Delhi near the banks of the Yamuna River that houses some of the millions of impoverished workers who stream into the capital from rural villages.
Suman Devi and five others lived in the building next to the one that collapsed, until Monday night when police told them they had to leave because their basement was flooded.
"When the building fell, we thought that we could have died, too," said Devi, a 60-year-old cook from Bihar. "But now the problem is we are on the street."
The newly homeless were milling around a nearby park, receiving food from neighbors and local non-governmental organizations.
Another woman named Pushpa said she and her six family members were sleeping outside.
"My belongings are scattered in the street. If we can find another room, we'll shift it there," she said, sitting on a sidewalk next to her refrigerator.
Nagender Sharma, who moved to Delhi to find work as a carpenter, was getting ready to move his family of seven to a plot he owns on the city outskirts despite there being no work there.
"For three nights we have been camping in the park," he said. "There is no help from the government."