Three killed, 40 hurt as mall collapses in Pakistan

December 20th, 2008 - 11:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Dec 20 (DPA) At least three people were killed and 40 injured when a popular shopping centre in Pakistan’s garrison town of Rawalpindi partially collapsed Saturday after a fire raged through the building for more than 12 hours.Almost all casualties occurred when two-thirds of the five-storey Gakhar Plaza collapsed in the afternoon, burying a score of emergency workers and onlookers beneath the rubble.

“Three bodies have so far been pulled out of the rubble,” Rawalpindi’s top administrative officer Imdadullah Bosal told reporters at the scene.

The death toll was also confirmed by Rizwan Naseer, director-general of the Rescue 1122 emergency service which was at the forefront in the rescue operation.

According to Bosal, of the 40 people injured most suffered only bruises from the falling debris.

Rescue teams were working to put out the last of the fire and search for survivors when the weakened structure came tumbling down.

The building was largely empty when the blaze began after midnight, but some watchmen were believed to be on different floors.

Helicopters doused the mall with water in the morning as dozens of firemen hosed it from the ground, but all of the nearly 500 shops were gutted.

Troops and emergency services from neighbouring Islamabad were brought in to help the rescue effort.

The plaza owner, Shahid Zafar, said he believed it was an act of sabotage, adding that the chances of a short circuit triggering the fire were minimal.

Officials expressed fears that the remaining part of the plaza might also collapse.

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