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Search for survivors after 15 die in India collapse

PANAJI, India -- Indian rescuers raced to find survivors in the ruins of a partly-constructed apartment block Sunday after its collapse left at least 15 people dead in the country's latest building disaster.

Around 15 people are still feared trapped inside the residential building that crumbled mid-afternoon on Saturday while poorly paid daily-wage laborers were working on the site in a coastal village in the southern state of Goa, an official said.

State acting chief secretary R.K. Srivastava told reporters at the site that the death toll “has gone up to 15” from an earlier 13 with the discovery of more bodies, adding that the rescue operation was ongoing.

A senior officer overseeing the rescue earlier told AFP some 15 to 20 people are thought buried under the debris but the chances of finding anyone alive were “getting bleak” as time passes.

“There were some 40 people working when the building collapsed” and some managed to escape alive, said the officer, who did not want to give his name as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The accident is the latest in a string of deadly building collapses in India, some of which have highlighted shoddy construction standards. A huge demand for housing in India and pervasive corruption often result in cost-cutting and a lack of safety inspections.

In September a rundown residential block in the financial hub Mumbai collapsed, killing 60 people.

Rescue workers using cranes and bulldozers, shovels and bare hands, struggled to shift concrete slabs and other debris to try to free the laborers trapped under the building in the seaside village of Canacona, south of the state capital of Panaji.

Photos showed workers tunneling into pancaked floors of smashed concrete, bricks and dirt to reach those trapped, after one witness told AFP the building collapsed like “a pack of cards.”

Emergency workers were using metal cutters to break through scores of twisted iron rods dangling from broken concrete to allow them to continue digging into and shifting the debris.

Men who survived the collapse were shown wearing bandages on their legs and heads and resting on beds at a nearby hospital.

The army joined fire and emergency workers to dig through the rubble and cut through iron rods immediately after the collapse, efforts that continued during the night Saturday.

Goa police were searching for the builder and the contractor who have gone missing since the tragedy. Officers have registered cases against them, and others involved in the building's construction, of endangering human life, causing death and negligence.

“Both the builder and contractor have been missing while attempts are on to trace them,” police Inspector Harish Madkaikar told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on Saturday pledged to “immediately arrest” those found responsible for the collapse of the building, which reports said was five stories high.

In June last year, 10 people were killed when an apartment block collapsed in Mumbai, while in April 74 people died after a seven-story building collapsed during construction on the city's outskirts.

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Rescued workers from a collapsed building under construction rest in hospital in Canacona, Sunday.

(AFP)

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