3 buildings in Rio de Janeiro collapse

2012-01-26 08:39

Rio de Janeiro - Three multi-storey buildings collapsed late on Wednesday in downtown Rio de Janeiro, leaving at least five people injured and an unknown number buried in the rubble, the city's mayor said.

"Three buildings collapsed, a twenty-storey building, a 10-storey building and a smaller building of three or four floors," Mayor Eduardo Paes told reporters, updating a previous estimate of the damage.

"Giving a total number of victims would be pure speculation," he added.

Health Secretary Sousa Aguiar said five people had been lightly wounded and were at a hospital under observation, adding that the buildings would have been largely deserted at the time of night when the collapse occurred.

Television network Globo News, citing civil defence officials, reported "11 casualties - dead and injured" in the incident, which took place near the municipal theatre on the city's historic Cinelandia square.

The historic district is bustling by day but nearly deserted at night.

Witnesses reported hearing an explosion in the area. Paes said the cause of the collapses was not yet known, but that it was likely "structural problems".

A mountain of rubble filled the street, while thick dust covered the cars nearby. The building housed several law offices, and construction work was being carried out on two separate floors.

Dozens of firefighters and emergency personnel rushed to the scene, and Paes said they would comb the rubble with search dogs through the night.

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.