By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Emergency services and rescue workers have started finding bodies in the remains of the three buildings which collapsed last night in the Cinelândia area of Centro in Rio de Janeiro. As of 1:30 PM on Wednesday, three people are confirmed dead, and at least fifteen people are still missing.
Six people have been taken to hospital after receiving “light injuries”.
The area around the Theatro Municipal (Municipal Theater) on Avenida Treze de Maio is still cordoned off as over sixty rescuers, some using heavy-lifting machinery, pick their way through the debris in a desperate, ongoing search for survivors.
At the time of the collapse at 8:30PM last night, eyewitnesses had spoken of a loud explosion and a smell natural gas in the air – which might have pointed to a leak.
But officials and specialists have dismissed this hypothesis of a gas leak and now say structural problems with at least one of the buildings are likely to have been behind the tragedy.
O Globo newspaper is reporting that work on the twenty-story building was not registered with the Regional Engineering and Architecture Council (CREA).
It says that the removal of a piece of scaffolding might be the cause of the collapse, which subsequently toppled the two neighboring buildings.
Traffic in central Rio is extremely difficult, and motorists are being urged not to go into Centro if at all possible.
Read more (in Portuguese).
* The Rio Times Daily Update is a new feature we are offering to help keep you up-to-date with major news as it happens.