Tuesday April 16, 2024

Illegal buildings across Karachi: 14 perish as three buildings collapse

By Oonib Azam
March 06, 2020

KARACHI: Thursday turned out to be a catastrophic day for the inhabitants of a residential quarter in Golimar, when a ground plus five-storey building, where another floor was being constructed, collapsed and triggered the collapse of two other neighboring buildings, resulting in the deaths of at least 14 people and leaving more than 14 injured.

This is the second incident taking place in the port-city in a span of less than 30 days, bringing into question the performance of the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) which has repeatedly failed to demolish hazardous and illegal buildings constructed across the city. Earlier, in February a ground-plus-five storey residential building constructed on 80-square-yard plot in Lyari’s Usmanabad developed cracks before tilting dangerously.

This building was constructed in a declared Katchi Abadi area. According to the building bylaws of SBCA, not more than two storeys above the ground floor are allowed over an 80 square yard plot. The SBCA, however, has yet to come up with an explanation as to who allowed the construction and gave the building fitness certificate. On Thursday morning, the five-storeyed residential building, 400 Quarter, caved in Golimar Number 2, which according to SBCA’s director Katchi Abadi, Muhammad Raqeeb, was constructed in a well-planned area, which doesn’t come under Katchi Abadi’s definition. The first building which collapsed, according to the SBCA, was built some 25 years ago. A homeopathic clinic was also functional at the ground floor of the building.

The owner of the building, Muhammad Jawed and his wife Fatima were also trapped inside the rubble of the building and were brought out injured later. An additional sixth floor was being constructed over the building, SBCA’s Additional Director, Ashkar Dawar, said and added that one of the major reasons for the building collapse seemed to be seepage of sewage water. The building first tilted and damaged a three-floor residential building constructed adjacent to it, which also damaged a neighbouring two-floor residential building. Residents of all the three buildings were trapped inside the rubble and the rescue operation continued till the filing of this story. Another building in the vicinity was vacated and declared hazardous by the SBCA.

Deputy Commissioner, Central, Farhan Ghani Khan, talking to The News, said that 38 people were removed from under the rubble of the collapsed buildings till 10pm on Thursday, out of which 13 were dead. There were around eight families living in the first building that collapsed, which also included the family of the son of the building’s owner. The other two buildings, according to Khan, housed at least four families each. As for the number of people trapped inside, the DC said that they are unsure of the exact figure, as people from the neighborhood are giving conflicting figures.

“With every passing minute, the risk of casualties will increase,” he expressed the apprehension. Rescue teams faced immense difficulties reaching the site because of the extremely narrow alleys around the vicinity. A large number of people from the neighborhood had also gathered at the scene. Rescuers which included a team from the Pakistan Army’s Corps of Engineers, Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s (KMC) rescue team, Urban Search and Rescue Department used iron cutters to go inside the rubble to search for the trapped residents. Oxygen cylinders were lowered into the holes to provide oxygen to the trapped people. The K-Electric team disconnected the power supply to the affected area.

People reported hearing screams and cries of people stuck under the rubble, which also helped the rescuers in their operation. The youngest injured brought out from the rubble was an eight-month-old baby. Father of 24-year-old Sufyan, who was trapped inside the rubble, beseeched the authorities to recover his son. “I spoke to him on phone, he’s facing trouble in breathing,” the father lamented. Speaking to the media, KMC’s senior director coordination, Masood Alam said that heavy machinery couldn’t be used in the operation as it could cause other neighbouring buildings to collapse. “Cutters are being used manually to prevent any further loss of life,” he said. Meanwhile, the government authorities brought hydraulic jumpers to lift the collapsed portion of the building, to rescue those trapped under the rubble.

The building, according to SBCA Additional Director, Ashkar Dawar was illegally constructed over an 80-yard plot. Talking to the media, he said that such buildings are being constructed throughout the city. “We demolish two such buildings, and 10 are erected behind our backs,” he said and added that the menace of illegal buildings is spreading in the city rapidly. The SBCA’s inspectors are responsible for monitoring such constructions across the city. “They must inspect and report to the building authority,” he said and added that he has already fired deputy and assistant directors of the SBCA of the Liaquatabad Town. The Sindh government suspended on Tuesday 28 employees of the SBCA over corruption charges. It was confirmed by a press release from the Sindh Local Government Secretary Rohsan Ali Shaikh according to which the SBCA officials had unlawfully authorised illegal constructions.

Meanwhile, Minister for Local Government Syed Nasir Hussain Shah after visiting the scene spoke to the media and said action would be taken against the builder mafia in the city. “As for now our foremost concern is to save the human lives,” he said and added that due to narrow streets the heavy machinery could not be utilised. He pledged Sindh government’s help to the affected families.

The search and rescue operation was continued till late on Thursday night with rescuers from the Pakistan Army, paramilitary Rangers and others were participating. “At 9pm, we retrieved the body of another minor girl from the debris increasing the death toll to 13 people, mostly of them women and children,” Liaquatabad Divisional SP Ejaz Bhatti told The News. Apart from the deceased, 14 injured were also moved to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital. SP Bhatti said that nothing could be said about more causalities as the search and rescue operation was underway. To a question, the officer said that the police would register a case after the rescue work. In a separate incident on the same day, a shed of a school collapsed in FB Area, killing one and injuring 12 people.