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Hopes fade for survivors as India flats collapse kills 66

By Andrew Buncombe in Delhi

There were plenty of people like Malti Haldal, hoping against the odds even as they worsened every hour. Emergency teams had recovered the body of her daughter, but her husband and granddaughter were still missing.

She was clinging to the belief that even as the grey of evening slipped over the city they might be pulled from the rubble alive.

“I don't know what I'm going to do,” Mrs Haldal (50) said, sobbing. “I just have to wait to know about the others.”

Yesterday evening, teams of rescuers using heavy machinery and their bare hands were still removing slabs of concrete and twisted iron as they sought to clear away the debris of a five-storey apartment block that had collapsed, killing at least 66 people and injuring another 80.

Up to a dozen people were still unaccounted for. Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, said it was an “unprecedented tragedy”.

A tragedy, certainly. But not one without obvious causes.

The circumstances surrounding the collapse of the block in the densely populated Lalita Park area of east Delhi were those of poverty and an absence of regulation.

Reports said the 15-year-old building was home to about 200 people, many of them migrants from Bihar state and, like Mrs Haldal, West Bengal, who were employed making handicrafts.

Packed into tiny flats, some squeezed six to a room, residents said persistent flooding of the basement since this year's monsoon rains may have weakened the foundation.

The landlord of the building, Amrit Singh, who has fled, had also recently illegally built the fifth floor on the block. He has been charged with culpable homicide.

The senior police officer at the scene, Dinesh Gupta, said the last survivor had been rescued within hours of the collapse on Monday evening and that yesterday only corpses had been recovered.

He dismissed as rumours that people trapped in the rubble had been using their mobile phones to call for help.

“I don't think there is a very good chance of anyone else being found alive,” he said.

Here on the fringes of Delhi, home to hundreds of thousands of economic migrants from the poorest parts of India, it takes little expertise to realise that over-crowding and cheaply constructed, unlicensed buildings do not make for a safe environment.

In a place where land is at a premium, unscrupulous builders often break building laws to add additional floors to existing structures, built high with little space between each house.

This is a part of the country that US President Barack Obama, who delighted the establishment when he declared that India was not just a rising power but had “already risen”, was not shown on his recent visit.

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