India building collapse
© Mumbai Fire Department
Tragedy struck one of the most congested enclaves of Mumbai just before noon on Tuesday when a four-storeyed structure, believed to be illegal, collapsed in Dongri, killing 10 people and injuring eight.

The toll is likely to climb as fire brigade personnel continued their search and rescue operations at Kesarbai Mansion late Tuesday night. Many more are feared trapped in the rubble. As ministers, politicians and officials rushed to the spot, a blame-game commenced between Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) and BMC.

India building collapse
While Mhada CEO Milind Mhaiskar told TOI that the building was "illegal" and did not figure on its records, a top BMC official said the structure was authorised because Mhada had been collecting cess from the occupants. But state housing minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil also confirmed the building was illegal. He said officials from both BMC and Mhada should be held responsible for letting it come up.

Around 11.40am, Mumbai Fire Brigade received the first call about Kesarbai Mansion crashing. Initial reports indicated over a dozen people trapped in the debris. Eight fire engines, ambulances and rescue vans were sent to the site while National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was also mobilised. Local civic ward officials and police officers soon cordoned off the area. Narrow congested lanes hampered operations as rescuers found it difficult to navigate easily in the area. Chief Fire Officer PS Rahangdale said residents were unable to tell his men the exact numbers of those trapped. "Efforts were made to pull out as many people as possible alive. However, we needed to get into the debris very carefully.''

Locals said they did see some chunks of the building falling before the crash. Firdoz Salmani, a 2nd floor resident who was injured in the collapse, said, "As pieces began to crumble, we realised something was wrong and began to run out. But it had already begun to collapse, and we were trapped."

Many people cried helplessly when they could not find their loved ones. Mussarat Menon came from Mazgaon searching for her sister and nephew. She said, "My sister had just shifted to the building around a year ago. They lived in a joint family. While her husband has been removed safely, she and her son cannot be traced."

Resident of an adjoining building, Mustafa Patel, rushed to help along with his brother. "We reached immediately but there was low visibility. We heard people trapped in the debris shouting for help, but we were helpless because it was difficult to move the beams and debris."

For some like Mohammad Alam, who had rented out a room on the second floor of the collapsed structure, it was a lucky escape. He said he was in his bathroom when he felt vibrations and loud noise. "I along with three female members and a child rushed out by using the stairs. One side of the staircase collapsed and another side of the stair where I was living was standing," he said.

Late on Tuesday evening, municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi visited the site and said his immediate priority was to rescue the trapped people.

Safdar Karmali, trustee of Dharamsay Khakoo Charitable and Religious Trust which owned the building, said, "I became the trustee in 2002, the building was constructed prior to that. Those days, people used their influence to erect structures without permission. I and the trust are not responsible for it."