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Death toll reaches 7 in Rio building collapse

This news story was published on January 28, 2012.
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By Diana Renee

RIO DE JANEIRO — The death toll from the collapse of three buildings in central Rio de Janeiro climbed to seven, the authorities confirmed Friday after more bodies were recovered overnight.

About 20 people were still missing from the late Wednesday collapse of three adjacent office buildings — 20, 10 and 4 stories high — in the heart of the city. At the time of the collapse, most of the occupants had already left work.

Fire Department chief Ronaldo Alcantara said the bodies of the remaining victims would most likely be retrieved within a few hours. Rescue teams believe they found early Friday a spot under the rubble where several bodies are buried.

“We think we have reached the room where a training session for computer technicians was taking place, which is where the greatest number of people was concentrated at the time of the accident,” Alcantara said.

Some 100 members of the Fire Department continued to look for the missing Friday. Uninterrupted efforts went on overnight despite the rain, but they were slow, and chances of finding survivors were regarded as very slim.

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said 15,000 tons of rubble — 80 percent of the total — had been removed from the site by early Friday. There are still no “definitive answers” as to the cause of the accident, although an explosion following a gas leak has virtually been ruled out by experts, Paes said.

Investigators were reportedly focusing on possible structural defects in one of the buildings involved, most likely the tallest of the three, due to illegal works carried out by occupants to alter at least two floors.

“We are collecting information from the experts who were at the site, and everything will be verified. Nobody can say yet whether it was caused by structural damage. There are several hypotheses that will be assessed and analyzed,” Paes stressed.

Sydnei Menezes, head of Rio’s Council of Architecture and Urban Planning, noted that there had been no sign of structural problems in the buildings prior to the accident.

“There was a sudden collapse of the structure. It was an unprecedented event,” he said.

Menezes said it was unlikely that water infiltration in the ground below the buildings caused the collapse.

“The other buildings around the site of the disaster were unaffected, even the Municipal Theatre which was built in 1904,” he said.

The accident perplexed Brazil and renewed concerns about safety in Rio de Janeiro, which is to host the Football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.

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