The death toll from this week’s collapse of three buildings in Rio de Janeiro’s historic downtown has risen to 17, officials said Saturday.
Despite steady rain that has fallen since Friday night, dozens of firefighters were still working amid the mountain of rubble to find the corpses of at least five people still believed to be missing.
Authorities have ruled out the possibility of finding any survivors at the site of the wreckage, located near the Brazilian metropolis’ Cinelandia square.
A spokeswoman for Rio de Janeiro state’s emergency management office said Saturday that eight of the bodies recovered were men and six were women, while authorities have not yet been able to determine the gender of the other three.
The collapse of the buildings - 20, 10 and five stories tall - also left six people injured, authorities said earlier.
The body of one victim was found amid rubble that had been removed from the site of Wednesday night’s collapse and been taken to a garbage dump, Col. Sergio Simoes, regional emergency management chief, said Friday afternoon.
“Early (Friday) morning a body in very bad condition, badly lacerated, left here without us realizing and was taken to a disposal site for removed rubble. We identified that body a short time ago ... and transported it to the (coroner’s office),” he told reporters.
The victim was identified as a woman based on one of her hands, the colonel said.
Another victim, Celso Renato Braga Cabral Filho, 46, was buried Friday in the flag of the popular Rio soccer club Flamengo in the nearby city of Niteroi.
Cabral had worked in the human resources department of an information technology company that occupied six stories of the tallest building and which had been carrying out remodeling work inside the structure without an official permit.
Brazilian authorities suspect that work may have made the building unstable because several witnesses said all the walls on one of the floors had been taken down, although the company has denied responsibility for the collapse.
Jorge Williams, a lawyer for the company, told Efe that the remodeling did not affect the building’s structure because “all the pillars were external” and the only walls that were knocked down were brick and merely served as “dividers.”
The Rio de Janeiro state government has declared three days of mourning through Sunday and suspended several official events, including a bridge inauguration that President Dilma Rousseff had been scheduled to attend.
The collapse, which occurred at around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, affected a group of office buildings located just a few meters (yards) from the Municipal Theater, a century-old structure inspired by Paris’ Palais Garnier.
The theater, a Rio cultural heritage site that was restored in 2009 to mark its 100th anniversary, was not damaged by the collapse of the nearby buildings, its administrators said.
Cinelandia is a bustling area during the day and therefore the tragedy “could have been on a much larger scale if it had occurred a couple of hours earlier,” Rio de Janeiro Gov. Sergio Cabral said Friday.
Police have launched a probe and 11 people have given statements to investigators, while police spokespersons said expert reports are still pending and will allow them to determine responsibilities.
Experts also will examine another nearby building Saturday for fear it may have suffered structural damage as a result of the collapse of the other three.
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