A cloudburst on Saturday evening brought down a 12-storey building under construction at Moulivakkam near Porur, killing at least six people and trapping more than 40 labourers under the debris. Seventeen of them, who were extricated from the rubble, are being treated in hospital, some with serious injuries of the spine, head and limbs. Rescue workers said the death toll could go up.
The building was one of two towers, named Faith and Belief, being constructed by Prime Sristi, a Maduraibased company.
Following a statement from chief minister J Jayalalithaa to act tough on people responsible for the tragedy, police arrested owner of the company Manoharan and his son Muthu, and charged them with culpable homicide amounting to murder.
Saturday being salary day, workers were waiting at the site to get paid. They took shelter on the ground floor of the building when it started raining around 4.30pm.
Eyewitnesses said that around 4.40pm, one of the towers shook and collapsed, burying scores of people under it. “Those in the vicinity screamed; many who were under the building just disappeared,” said Appalaiah, 40, a worker who escaped by a whisker as brick and mortar came crashing down.
The first to help were a group of workers at an L&T construction site a few blocks away, followed by the fire and rescue services at 5.05pm. By 6.30pm, rescue authorities moved heavy equipment and gas cutters from metro rail to the construction site.
As a large number of victims remained trapped for more than three hours, the state government sent an SOS to the National Disaster Response Force, stationed in Arakkonam. The first NDRF company of 80 arrived at 8.30pm, followed by 180 men by 10pm. At midnight, many people remained trapped.
A batch of 80 members of the state disaster rescue force (SDRF), led by additional director general of police Sanjay Arora, joined 200 policemen and 150 fire and rescue services personnel.
“We have some heavy equipment and gas cutters, but they are not enough. A lot more people are buried underneath,” said a rescue worker. Another said a family of four were trapped in their house next to the worksite after concrete blocks fell and covered their entrance. A Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) official said the building had got plan permission in June and clearance from multiple authorities.
“We will be collecting samples from the site to ascertain if substandard materials were used in the construction,” he said. CMDA will submit a report to the government on Sunday