Delhi building death toll rises to 60, hunt on for survivors

New Delhi: Rescuers continued to search for possible survivors under tonnes of debris of an illegally-built high-rise building here that caved in killing at least 60 people, authorities said on Tuesday, the day after the tragedy.

Police slapped a case of negligence against the building's owner, Amrik Singh, who is on the run ever since all seven floors of the building collapsed on Monday night in Laxmi Nagar, entombing dozens of labourers from Bihar and West Bengal.

A police spokesperson told IANS that the death toll on Tuesday morning stood at 60. About 80 others were admitted to four hospitals, many of them battling for lives after receiving head injuries as bricks and cement rained on them.

The tragedy took place in the congested locality near the Yamuna river in east Delhi around 8.15 p.m.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Tuesday squarely blamed the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) for the collapse, saying the building was constructed without authorisation.

"There is definitely negligence on the part of MCD," said Dikshit, describing the accident as "unprecedented". "Without an NOC (no objection certificate), no building is considered livable. It was an unauthorised building."

"Now the priority is to take out the debris and rescue people," she added.

The rescue work continued through the night but the work, officials admitted, was daunting considering the scale of the tragedy - seven collapsed floors and several tonnes of bricks, mortars and entire cemented floors.

Delhi Fire Service chief R.C. Sharma said the rescue work would go on until it was abundantly clear that all those in the building had been rescued.

But since the building was illegal, it was unclear how many people lived there. Locals said the owner had rented out every room to workers looking for a roof and that the base of the building had weakened after this year's flooding.

Some residents insisted that an illegal ice cream factory also functioned in the building - a clear indication, they said, of connivance by local civic officials.

The first to reach the tragedy site were nearby residents who rushed after hearing the roaring noise of the collapsing building.

Once the dust settled, people began to frantically rescue the injured - and remove the visibly dead - with bare hands before police and fire brigade arrived.

Delhi's Finance Minister A.K. Walia, who is the legislator from the area, said the authorities had been trying to drain out rain water from the basement of the building for weeks. But every time this was done, the water simply flowed back.

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