Scores of people were believed dead on Saturday after a shopping mall in southern China collapsed into a heap of rubble while construction workers were illegally adding extra stories.
A local newspaper said more than 240 people were believed to have been in the mall, which had more than 20 shops and restaurants on the ground floor, when it collapsed around 2:00 p.m. (0600 GMT) on Friday. It was not known how many got out alive.
The jagged field of bricks and concrete where the mall had stood in the Houjie suburb of Dongguan suggested there was little chance of anyone inside surviving when it collapsed like a pack of cards, witnesses said.
“There was a loud rumbling sound and I thought it was an earthquake. But within seconds, the whole building just crumbled before my eyes,” one witness told Hong Kong cable television.
State television put the official toll at eight dead and 32 injured, but one factory worker said he had been told by colleagues helping in the rescue attempt that more than 20 bodies had been pulled out on Friday night.
The newspaper quoted a doctor as saying he found the bodies of a 10-year old boy and a couple who died embracing each other.
Officials in Dongguan, a city in Guangdong province, said rescue work was abandoned on Saturday morning because there was no hope of finding anyone alive in the flattened mass.
“Most of the dead bodies have been found and removed,” said a city official who refused to say how many bodies had been extracted by the time rescue work was halted at what had been a one-story mall to which builders were adding two more floors.
It was the latest accident in a construction industry plagued by shoddy work. Bean curd construction Premier Zhu Rongji has fumed in the past at what he called “bean curd construction” and the initial signs in Dongguan pointed to foundations laid for a one-story building and incapable of bearing the weight of three, a city official said.
“It’s probably the faulty foundations. That was a privately owned mall and the owner did not get any approval to build another floor on top,” he told Reuters.
Witnesses said a crack appeared in the mall, an hour’s drive from Hong Kong, before it collapsed.
Survivor Wang Jingjing said from her hospital bed that people at the mall were worried about the crack.
“Some people said there was no problem, so we came back,” she told the Hong Kong cable television station.
The mall collapsed shortly after a heavy truck rumbled past it, she said. Builders detained
Another Dongguan official said three managers of the construction firm were being held.
“They are in detention and being questioned, but no charges have been laid yet,” he said.
State television said the firm had just finished the new roof when the building collapsed.
Website www.sina.com.cn quoted a mall shopkeeper surnamed Liu as saying he had told the contractor several days ago that the floor of the building was sinking, but had been ignored.
The shopkeeper and his wife fled shortly before the collapse when the floor sank further and water appeared, the website said.
It said the mall had been built over a drainage ditch which had been cemented over.
The Chinese government has been trying to impose higher standards on its construction industry following a series of fatal accidents caused by bad workmanship.
Last year, a Communist Party official was sentenced to death for taking bribes and dereliction of duty after a bridge collapsed and killed 40 people.
Less than a week ago, another bridge collapse, this time in Shenzhen, next door to Hong Kong, injured 19 people, five seriously, the China Daily reported.