HONG KONG — The Chinese state news media reported Tuesday that at least 22 people had died in the collapse of four residential buildings in an eastern city the day before, a toll that would make it one of the deadliest cases of its kind in recent years.
The buildings, cramped six-story quarters for migrant workers in the city of Wenzhou, collapsed about 3:25 a.m. on Monday, the state-run Zhejiang Daily reported. Neighbors, flashlights in hand, began to sift through the rubble before rescue workers arrived, the paper said. Early reports indicated that several people had been killed, but the toll rose as rescue efforts continued Monday and overnight.
Chinese television showed scenes of dozens of rescue workers, some in orange coveralls and others in military fatigues, digging by hand through the rubble. By Tuesday morning, six people had been rescued, including a 3-year-old girl who was pulled from the wreckage on Monday evening, the state news media reported. Reports suggested that the girl’s father, who was killed, appeared to have shielded her from the building’s collapse.
Wenzhou, a bustling coastal city in Zhejiang Province, is a major manufacturing hub for goods like shoes and purses, and its factories attract thousands of migrant workers from across the country. The 3-year-old’s parents had worked in a shoe factory, and the girl spent most of the year with her grandparents thousands of miles away, her aunt told a local news website, Zhejiang Online.
The cause of the collapse was unclear on Tuesday, but several state news outlets reported that the four structures, which were next to each other, had been built by rural workers. They were part of a neighborhood of ramshackle, low-rise apartment buildings, portions of which officials and developers had wanted to demolish, according to a report in The Beijing News. The report said some residents had resisted the effort, which had been going on for two years, by refusing to move or demanding levels of compensation that the local government was unwilling to pay.
By Monday evening, the top two officials in Zhejiang, a province once run by China’s president, Xi Jinping, had arrived in Wenzhou to oversee the rescue efforts, the state-run China News Agency reported.
Building collapses are not unusual in China, whose cities have mushroomed in the past several decades as hundreds of millions of rural residents flocked to them in search of work. Shoddy construction is rampant. Poorly built structures, or “tofu buildings,” were blamed for exacerbating the death toll during the 2008 earthquake that killed more than 69,000 people in Sichuan Province, in southwestern China.
In the district of Wenzhou where the collapse occurred, more than 1,400 buildings were deemed unsafe and in need of reinforcement or demolition in 2014, Wenzhou Daily reported at the time.
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