Residents salvage belongings from collapsed building site; Corporation begins survey of unsafe structures

T. V Kannan and K.K. Ravi, stood in front of a collapsed building in Triplicane on Friday, calculating.

They were trying to ascertain how many of their belongings could be retrieved from the rubble of the structure, where they had been tenants. Their 70-year-old building, on Sunguvar Lane, collapsed on Wednesday morning, killing two of its residents and endangering several more.

On Thursday, the Chennai Corporation began a survey of all dilapidated buildings in the city, in order to prevent further such incidents ahead of the northeast monsoon.

“We will complete the survey in a week. More than 10 lakh houses have to be studied,” said Corporation commissioner D. Karthikeyan. The civic body will then issue notices to all unsafe buildings , asking residents to vacate the premises.

Mr. Kannan, a priest who lived on the first floor, has a daughter who studies in class 12 and a son who is doing his second year of civil engineering. “I have my own house down the road, but had taken this house on a lease as my house is very small. This is where my two children studied and kept their books and stationary,” he said.

“My daughter’s friends have agreed to lend her textbooks. I will wait until Monday to see if they can retrieve anything. Otherwise, I will have to buy her a new set,” he said. He paid close to Rs. 10,000 for his son’s books and equipment at the beginning of the semester, and may have lost most of it. “We had a drawing board, reading table and furniture inside,” said the priest. “I am just glad that my children were not in the house that night.”

K.K. Ravi, another tenant said that while his wife and son were away on vacation, he locked the house and left just the night before the collapse. “Other than my son’s books, we have important documents and certificates. Since our house was on the first floor, I am not very hopeful about how much can be retrieved,” he said.   

The collapse had its impact on the lives of residents of neighbouring houses too. Muniyamma (58) is a resident on Sunguvar Lane. The falling debris damaged the front potion of the house she bought two years ago. “We are in debt after buying this house. This is a big blow to us and we are worried about funds for repairs,” she said.

Another victim of the house collapse is Balakrishnan (40) whose printing press was functioning from the first floor of the building. “More than Rs. 3 lakh worth of machinery is stuck in the debris. We closed the press a week before the accident, as employees feared the worst after pieces of concrete started to peel off,” he added.

Former tenants like Gopal, a shopkeeper, returned on Thursday to recover valuables including land documents and gold jewellery amid the debris. Other tenants are keeping their fingers crossed, waiting for the concrete to be cleared in order to retrieve their belongings.

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