Search on for survivors as three-storey building collapses

Published: February 26, 2019
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Local residents and rescue workers sift through the rubble, looking for survivors, after a three-storey building collapsed in Malir on Monday morning. PHOTO: PPI

Local residents and rescue workers sift through the rubble, looking for survivors, after a three-storey building collapsed in Malir on Monday morning. PHOTO: PPI

KARACHI: At least two persons died and several others injured when a three-storey building collapsed in Jafar Tayar Society, Malir, on Monday morning. Authorities claimed to have rescued a young boy from the rubble, but were uncertain about the number of casualties or injured as rescue efforts were ongoing till late into the night

The deceased, whose bodies were retrieved, were identified as Hassan Abbas Zaidi, the owner of the building, and his wife, Zahra. The injured child, who was rescued from the rubble, was identified as their son, Shahzain. The child told rescue workers that three of his siblings were also trapped inside the collapsed building.

Three dead, several feared trapped as building collapses in Karachi

The incident

The three-storey building, built on plot number A-51 in Jafar Tayar Society, behind Jamia Masjid Jaffar Tayyar, collapsed at around 7:30am. The sound of the collapse was heard several blocks away. On hearing the crash, neighbours and residents from several blocks rushed to the spot and tried to start rescue efforts. Soon, police and Rangers personnel and rescue teams affiliated with welfare organisations reached the spot. East Zone DIG Amir Farooqi and Malir SSP Irfan Bahadur also reached the site.

By this time, the neighbours had managed to retrieve the body of Hassan Abbas Zaidi. Residents kept complaining, however, that it wasn’t possible for them to remove the rubble without the use of heavy machinery. They demanded the government to deploy its machinery to the site to help with the rescue efforts.

Authorities’ lax response

It took over two-and-a-half hours for the government’s machinery, which included an excavator to reach the site. The narrow streets and the large presence of onlookers made it particularly difficult for the heavy machinery to navigate its way to the collapsed building. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) had dispatched a snorkel, bulldozers, trucks and staff to assist in the rescue efforts.

At least three hours after the collapse, rescue workers managed to retrieve the injured boy, Shahzain, from the rubble. The child was in his school uniform and had severe injuries. The child told rescue workers that he was 13 years old and had just left the house for school when the building came crashing down. “There was a lot of noise and suddenly the building came crashing to the ground,” he said, adding that his parents, two brothers and a sister were at home, besides at least six or seven other persons in other apartments.

Pakistan Army joins in

Sometime later, a contingent of the Pakistan Army’s Engineering Corps reached the site to assist in the rescue mission. They brought along their own heavy machinery.

It took them several more hours to retrieve the body of the owner’s wife, Zahra. Later, the deceased couple’s bodies were transported to the morgue, while their injured son had already been shifted to a hospital.

Who lived there?

There was confusion about how many people were actually present in the building when it collapsed. According to neighbours, the deceased owner was an employee of the income tax department, while his wife was a government schoolteacher.

The owner lived with his wife and three sons on the first floor. The second floor had been rented out to a family, whose patron the neighbours identified as Syed Ali. He had, however, moved to another house two days before the incident. Two other families had been living on the third storey.

Local residents told The Express Tribune that the residential building was around six to seven years old. The ground floor of the plot measuring 96 yards had been allocated for an Imambargah.

Initially, it had been constructed as a ground-plus-one building, but later two more floors were added to it. The second floor was given on rent two years ago, while a part of the third floor was rented three years ago and the other, around six months ago. The reports, however, were unverified as the authorities could not say for sure whether the building had three floors or four.

Since the foundation of the building was not strong enough to bear the burden of the additional floors, cracks had appeared in the underground water tank a week before the incident.

As soon as the owner noticed the cracks, notices were issued to the tenants and work to strengthen the foundation was commenced. The work was under way when the accident occurred.

Neighbours also said that at the time of the building’s collapse, an empty school van was parked below the building which was buried under the rubble.

SBCA reacts

Hours after the incident, the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) Director-General Iftikhar Kaimkhani reached the site, accompanied by a technical team. During the inspection, said the SBCA in a press release, neighbours informed them that the collapsed property was an old house measuring 100 square feet and comprising ground-plus-two storeys, which had been constructed around 25 to 30 years ago.

“Sometime ago, during the campaign against encroachments, front portion of the said house was demolished,” the SBCA statement reads. “Thereafter the owner/occupant without consulting any professional and also without having any approval from SBCA has started cutting/jacketing the structure columns and beams on his own to give strength to the structure of his house from inside the premises with no visibility from outside,” it added. Since the said property was a corner plot, restlessness and lack of strength in the existing foundation due to the damage done during the repairs of its structure caused the incident to occur, it claimed. 

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2019.

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