ASHRAF JAVED

LAHORE - At least 20 people died and seven wounded seriously while more than a dozen are feared trapped under the debris following the collapse of a mosque in Daroghawala on Tuesday noon, apparently because of the devastating rains in the last few days.

Police said both the portions of the two-storey mosque – Jamia Masjid Hanfia – located in the densely populated area came down back-to-back, burying more than 40 people who were offering Zuhr prayers.

A mood of sadness prevailed across the provincial capital as the TV channels broke the news of mosque collapse with footage of ambulances racing towards the site to shift the victims to public hospitals.

Five of the wounded sustained multiple fractures and their condition was reported to be very serious till late Tuesday. The prayer leader miraculously survived because the mihrab where he was standing remained unaffected.

“Twenty bodies have been extracted. Seven injured are shifted to different public hospitals depending on the seriousness of their injuries. But there are 10 to 15 trapped under the debris,” said a spokesperson for the Punjab Emergency Service (Rescue-1122).

However, the Punjab government officials confirmed 13 deaths and seven wounded after the mosque collapse. Five of the dead were identified as Muhammad Rizwan, 15, Jamshaid Iqbal, 40, Muhammad Fareed, 13, Ashiq Ali, 35, and Syed Zia-ul-Haq 55.

The injured identified as Rizwan, 35, Liaqat 50, Salman, 12, Zahid 40, and Saleem, 35, were shifted to hospitals. The authorities are yet to ascertain the identity of other victims.

Eyewitnesses said the top roof of the mosque caved in and seconds later the roof of the first portion collapsed. Because of its strong impact the whole building caved in a moment. Within a few seconds, the mosque turned into a tragic sight with echoes of cries and screaming.

The locals began the rescue operation on self-help basis, and were later joined by the rescue officials. The search and rescue operation was launched with a considerable delay as the heavy machinery to navigate through the wreckage failed to enter the area because of the narrow streets.

Officials from police, rescue-1122 and fire service departments were at the site using heavy equipment, gas cutters, and cranes to get to the trapped persons. Rescue work could continue through the night, a police officer said. Apart from 10 rescue vehicles, dozens of rescuers are participating in search and rescue operation. The authorities suspended gas and electricity supply to the entire locality to ensure smooth operation.

The locals blamed poor planning and substandard construction material for the tragedy. “A thin layer of 2 inches of concrete was used in the lenter rather than 4.5 inches. The builders also dumped 1.5 inches of soil on the lenter before finishing it. The heavy load of soil caused the structure to collapse following heavy rains,” they added.  Since the victims were nearby residents, hundreds of people gathered outside the tragedy site soon after the happening. With tears in eyes and prayers on lips, many residents were seen impatiently waiting for their loved ones as the rescuers were digging to pull out the victims.

A 55-year-old woman was seen praying for her teenage son who was trapped under the rubbles. She was repeatedly looking towards the sky with moving lips. She rushed to rescuers as they took out the victims to the ambulance.

“We were in a state of prostration during the prayer when the concrete roof, from the right side, caved in. When I opened my eyes, I was being shifted to hospital,” said an injured Muhammad Saleem.

 A great number of people joined the operation to help rescue workers. The locals were seen offering water bottles and eatables to those who were participating in the operation.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited the site and monitored the operation. He announced Rs 500,000 compensation for the families of each deceased. He ordered an inquiry to probe into the incident. He also directed the authorities to provide best medical care to the injured persons.

Police are asked to nab those prima facie responsible for the accident. Police sources claimed that an FIR would be filed against the builder and the municipal officials.

Provincial ministers, Lahore CCPO, commissioner, and other senior officers also reached the spot to supervise the operation. DG Rescue Dr Rizwan Naseer also visited the scene and monitored the overall rescue operation.

Last week, more than 17 persons including seven women died when the roofs of various dilapidated houses collapsed during downpour in different parts of the provincial metropolis.

President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Chief Altaf Hussain expressed grief over the incident.