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Building collapse in Kenya kills at least 7; poor construction blamed

NAIROBI, Kenya—A five-story building under construction collapsed in Nairobi's central business district just after the lunch hour Monday, trapping 200 people—mostly construction workers—under masses of twisted iron and concrete.

News reports in this East African capital said that at least seven people were killed, but authorities expected the body count to rise as rescue crews dug overnight through the rubble for victims. Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital admitted 73 people with serious injuries.

Officials blamed sloppy construction and promised to investigate. In Nairobi, commercial buildings and apartment blocks sometimes seem to spring up overnight, and witnesses said the structure that collapsed had been built in less than three months.

An injured construction worker who gave his name as Jaluo said the building had gone up too fast.

"We were constructing floor after floor even when the cement of the one beneath us had not dried to the required standard," Jaluo said from his hospital bed. "That's why the building caved in."

Several hundred onlookers rushed to the scene, including dozens who dove into the wreckage and began removing debris with their bare hands. Crowds collected atop neighboring buildings and cheered every time a person was pulled out.

By nightfall, police had dispersed the crowd as a few dozen emergency workers continued to break through the rubble with pickaxes and metal-cutters. Authorities said the rescue effort could take days.

"People can hear noise, knocking and coughing" coming from the rubble, Vice President Moody Awori said at a news conference. "It is going to be a long night."

About 2 p.m. Monday, as construction workers were finishing their lunches or napping before the afternoon shift, witnesses heard a loud crack as a concrete pillar near the center of the building gave way. Dozens of people, including several women who were selling food, were thought to have been on the bottom two floors and crushed by the collapse.

A carpenter on the building, Simon Gitau, escaped with a few scrapes and minor injuries on his head.

"I was just sleeping after the midday meal, waiting for the afternoon shift, when I found myself under stones in darkness," said Gitau, 27, lying in a hospital bed. He was covered in dirt and had a bloody gash on his forehead.

Two huge slabs of stone pinned his body to the ground until emergency crews reached him, he said.

"I heard a scraping sound, then saw a sliver of light as rescue workers finally reached where I was," he said.

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(Kilongi is a Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent.)

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