Rescue workers in Brazil have pulled at least five bodies from the rubble of three collapsed buildings in downtown Rio de Janeiro. At least six people were injured and 15 others are still missing.
Emergency crews found the five bodies Thursday as they used search dogs and heavy machinery to sift through the wreckage of the buildings that collapsed late Wednesday.
“We really hope to find survivors,” said police officer Julio César Mafia. “That is why we are carrying out the debris removal very carefully, to be sure that we won’t harm any survivors.”
The three buildings that fell were between four and 20 stories high. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said the collapse appeared to be caused by structural problems and not a gas leak as earlier suspected.
“We won’t speculate about the accident’s causes, but we have ruled out the possibility of a gas explosion,” he said. “What has probably happened was a structure failure in the tallest building that led to the collapse of the three structures.”
Authorities told Brazil’s Globo television network that construction was being carried out on one of the buildings and could have contributed to the collapse.
Witnesses said they heard what sounded like an explosion Wednesday evening, and then with a rumble, the top floors of the buildings began collapsing, covering vehicles with a thick dust. One unidentified witness likened the scene to that of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Officials say the buildings were for commercial, not residential, use. Television reports say police have cordoned off the area around the destroyed buildings, and that electricity has been cut off over concerns of a possible gas leak.
The infrastructure problems come as Brazil makes improvements before hosting the 2014 World Cup and the Summer Olympics two years later.