Thane: Rescue operations were called off at the Shil Phata building collapse site on Saturday afternoon, nearly 43 hours after the illegal structure crashed even as the death toll mounted to 72, officials said.

"Rescue operations have been called off. The death toll at present stands at 72 while 62 people have been pulled out alive," Thane Joint Commissioner of Police Vipin Kumar told reporters at the scene of the tragedy, the worst of its kind in Maharashtra.

According to the Regional Disaster Management Control (RDMC) sources, those dead include 22 women and 17 children. Of the 60 injured, 36 have been admitted to hospitals in Thane, Kalwa and Mumbra. The seriously injured have been shifted to JJ and Sion Hospitals in Mumbai.

Though a case has been registered against builders including Salil and Khalil Jamadar under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC, they continue to evade arrest.

Kumar said now an adjoining multi-storey structure, also constructed by the same builder illegally, was in the process of being pulled down. R A Rajeev, Thane Municipal Commissioner, had on Friday gone on record to say that 90 percent of buildings in Mumbra area where Shil Phata, the scene of Thursday's tragedy is located, are illegal.

Alok Awasthi, Commandant of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), which was rushed from Pune soon after the collapse, too confirmed that rescue efforts had been abandoned
as there was no likelihood of presence of any bodies or survivors. "We have explored the area eight feet underneath the plinth and we are reasonably sure that there is nobody there," Awasthi, who led his team of 90 men who painstakingly rescued 62 people from the massive wreckage, said.

Describing the operation as "complicated", Awasthi said because it was a "sandwich collapse", with floor lying over floor, it was a daunting task to remove debris from each storey to look for survivors.

"We had to proceed very slowly as any mis-step would have pushed up the death toll," he said.The Government had on Friday suspended Thane Deputy Municipal Commissioner Deepak Chavan and Shil-Daighar Senior Police Inspector K P Naik for dereliction of duty and for allegedly colluding with the builders.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has also announced a probe by an Additional Chief Secretary-level officer.




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