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By A Newsman

Siliguri, 23 July: SEVEN persons of two families have died and eight are hospitalised with injuries after a dilapidated multi-storey building collapsed in hill town Darjeeling late last night.

A team comprising personnel from the state disaster management department, Army, and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have completed a joint search and rescue operation today afternoon with the retrieval of three dead bodies from the debris.

One dead body was retrieve today morning, and three more were brought out last night itself not very long after the building collapsed around 10.30 pm at Darjeeling’s Zakir Hussain Busty.

The rescue team battled immense difficulty due to rain and the narrow approach road that leads to the collapse site.

The first three floors of the building had concrete rooms and each of the floors was occupied by tenants that include two Muslim families and one Hindu family. The third floor had wooden rooms that were unoccupied.  The owner of the house, Ashok Chettri, relocated to Siliguri with family about six months ago.

Darjeeling Municipality had declared the building “dangerous” about four decades ago but took no follow-up action either to vacate or demolish it.

The wear and tear through the past few decades worsened it condition but the occupants continued to live there with occasional patchwork. Incessant rain in Darjeeling for the past few days made its condition very fragile.

Neighbours said that around 10.30 pm last night they heard a huge sound and rushed out of homes to find that the building had collapsed completely. Occupants of the collapsed building were crying out for help from under the debris.

Neighbours and personnel from the disaster management department were able to rescue in the night itself six members of Gulam Hussain’s family who lived on the first floor of the building. They are admitted to hospitals in Darjeeling and Siliguri were grievous injuries.

Later in the night, the rescuers retrieved the dead bodies of Rajesh Pariyar (45), his wife Anita Pariyar (38), and mother Amritadevi Pariyar (60) who lived on the second floor. Anjali Pariyar, nine-year old daughter of Rajesh and Anita, was rescued in injured condition and she is now admitted to Darjeeling District Hospital.

Today morning, the rescue team was able to rescue from under the debris Alauddin Shah, who lived on the ground floor with family. He too is admitted to Darjeeling District Hospital.

But his family members ~ Ume Habira (28), Nasima Bano, (35), Jamila Bano (65), and Kashmiri Ali (40) were not lucky. Their dead bodies were retrieved by the joint rescue team between noon and afternoon today.

North Bengal development minister Rabindranath Ghosh, who visited the collapse site at the direction of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, announced that the state government would provide an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of keen of the seven killed, and Rs 1 lakh each of the eight injured.

The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) has announced a separate compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of keen of those killed, and Rs 50,000 each of the injured.

Darjeeling Municipality has announced another Rs 50,000 compensation to each of the eight injured.

Darjeeling district magistrate Anurag Srivastava has said that their priority was now to provide treatment to the injured and clear the debris from the collapse site to avoid any further damage from this as rain was still on.

After this, the administration would order a probe to find out the exact reason for the building collapse and fix responsibility for this.