19 missing in Brazil building collapse
Rio de Janeiro - Nineteen people were missing early on Thursday after three
buildings, one of them 20 stories high, collapsed in downtown Rio de Janeiro,
injuring five people, authorities said.
The collapse, apparently caused by structural problems, came as Brazil races
to prepare to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, which it hopes
will highlight its emerging economic and political prowess.
"Three buildings collapsed: a 20-storey building, a 10-storey building
and a smaller building of three or four floors," Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes
told reporters late on Wednesday, updating a previous estimate of the damage.
"Giving a total number of victims would be pure speculation," he
Early on Thursday, Paes told Globo News television that "19 people who
were inside the buildings have not returned home", as rescuers with search
dogs continued to sift through the rubble.
Health Secretary Sousa Aguiar said five people had been lightly injured and
were at a hospital under observation, adding that the office buildings would
have been largely deserted during the night-time collapse.
The incident took place near the municipal theatre on the city's Cinelandia
square, in a historic district bustling by day but nearly deserted at night.
Witnesses reported hearing an explosion and described scenes reminiscent of
September 11, with walls of dust and debris. Paes said the cause of the
collapse was not yet known, but that it was likely "structural problems".
Allesandro da Silva Fonseca, who was briefly trapped in an elevator while he
tried to escape with four other construction workers, said he almost suffocated
from the dust.
"I was out of air. I could not breathe," he said by mobile phone.
All five workers later managed to escape, but it was not immediately clear if
they were the same victims referred to by health officials.
A mountain of rubble filled the street, and thick dust covered the cars
nearby. The tallest building had housed several law offices, and construction
work was being carried out on two separate floors.
A bank branch and a restaurant were located on the first floor of one of the
collapsed buildings, but it was not immediately clear if the two businesses
were open at the time of the incident.
Brazilian authorities are racing to build or renovate 12 stadiums in time
for the 2014 World Cup, one of the world's premier sporting events.
Last month football's world ruling body FIFA warned Brazil about delays in
the progress of construction projects expected to be ready for the four-yearly
The Getulio Vargas Foundation and consultancy Ernst & Young have said
Brazil needs more than $11bn in investment to fix roads, boost hotel capacity,
reinforce security and develop its telecom network ahead of the Cup.
Brazil hopes the events will showcase its rising power. The Latin American
giant surpassed Britain as the world's sixth largest economy last year, but its
standard of living lags behind that of the United States and Europe.