Police in southern India detained five people on Sunday after two buildings collapsed on the outskirts of Chennai Saturday. At least 22 people were killed and dozens more are still believed to be trapped inside.
The exact number of those trapped is unknown, but rescuers could hear voices in the debris, according to T.S. Sridhar, the disaster management agency commissioner. Fox News reports that officials used gas cutters and shovels to search for victims of the collapse.
The 11-story structure collapsed while nearly 90 contract workers were believed to be in the basement to collect their wages. Police reported Sunday that they pulled out at least 31 people so far, but that number will likely go up.
S.P. Selvam, who is heading up the rescue operation, stated, “Removing debris is a major challenge. It may take two to three days to clear the rubble.”
Police officer Fernandes said that two directors, two engineers, and one supervisor of the construction company, Prime Sristi, were detained for questioning as authorities began their investigation of the building collapse.
One builder, Balaguru, suggested that the structure collapsed because of the impact of lightning. He explained, “Usually, once the construction gets over we install the equipment to prevent the building from a thunder strike. It was nearing completion.”
Earlier Saturday, 11 people died and one survivor was treated at a hospital after a four-story structure toppled in New Delhi. Most homes in that part of the capital were built without permission using substandard materials.
Building collapses have become fairly common in India, with several accidents taking place across major cities in the past year, notes the BBC. The latest incidents will likely bring the spotlight on the need for better regulation in the country’s construction industry.
While some collapses have been blamed on poor quality materials, others happened because the buildings were too old and residents refused to leave, even though the structures were labeled as dangerous to live in. Corruption is also a factor in some incidents. In many cases, change to the building’s structure, including extra floors or breaking down walls, are allowed by authorities who accept bribes from the building companies.
Soaring property prices in several Indian cities also make it difficult to find affordable housing for the nation’s poor, causing residents to compromise on safety for the sake of having a place to live.
Joint collector Rekha Rani estimated that there are up to 132 workers trapped in the basement of the building that collapsed in Chennai Saturday.