Rescue workers search for people in the rubble of a five-storey apartment building after it collapsed in Mahad on August 24. — AFP/VNA Photo
MAHAD — One person was killed and dozens feared trapped after a five-storey apartment building collapsed late Monday in western India, officials said.
Estimates of the number of missing people range from 51 to 200, according to various local officials.
The collapsed structure comprised 47 flats, police in the town of Mahad – 120km south of Mumbai in Maharashtra state – said in a statement.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear, but building collapses are common during India's June-September monsoon, with old and rickety structures buckling under the weight of non-stop rain.
Three rescue teams with specialised equipment and sniffer dogs have been deployed to the scene, a statement from India's National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said, with Home Minister Amit Shah tweeting that he was "praying for everyone's safety".
NDRF spokesman Sachidanand Gawde told reporters that emergency workers had retrieved the body of one victim, while Mahad police said at least 70 people were believed to be trapped under the rubble.
"Fifteen injured people have been rescued and taken to hospital," the police said in a statement.
Local residents and police combed through tin sheets, metal rods and other wreckage in a desperate search for survivors as ambulances ferried victims to nearby hospitals.
Mahad legislator Bharat Gogawale told the local TV9 Marathi channel that early estimates seemed to suggest that "over 200 people are stuck inside".
"Our primary goal is to rescue as many people as possible who are trapped under the debris," Gogawale said.
An unnamed official with the Maharashtra state Disaster Management Unit later told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that 51 people were missing.
Some 70 people fled to safety when the building began to buckle, Nidhi Choudhari, an official in the district where Mahad is located, told PTI.
"We also came to know that many families are not residing in the building as they went to their native places due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown", Choudhari told PTI.
Local politician Manik Motiram Jagtap told TV9 Marathi that the structure was 10 years old and built on "weak" foundations.
"It fell like a house of cards," Jagtap said. "It is a scary situation."
As night fell, emergency workers used cranes to try and remove the rubble as relatives anxiously waited for news of their loved ones.
The office of Uddhav Thackeray, the state's chief minister, said on Twitter that he had been in touch with local representatives in the area.
"He has assured them that all possible support will be extended for speedy rescue and relief works," the tweet said.
The monsoon plays a vital role in boosting agricultural harvests across South Asia. But it also causes widespread death and destruction, unleashing floods, triggering building collapses and inundating low-lying villages.
The death toll from monsoon-related disasters this year has topped 1,200, including more than 800 lives lost in India alone.
The accident brings yet more bad news for Maharashtra, which has already been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, with the state accounting for over a fifth of India's more than three million infections.
The pandemic has also cast a shadow on the ongoing Ganesha Chaturthi festival, with Hindu devotees ordered to sharply scale down celebrations and rituals honouring the much-loved elephant god in a bid to limit the spread of the virus. — AFP