(Top) The collapsed building in Darjeeling town; the stream that flows past the building. Pictures by Suman Tamang 
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, July 23: A four-storey building collapsed in Darjeeling town last night, killing seven persons, as the 48-year-old structure shook and then caved in.
Municipal officials said it was not immediately clear why the building in Dr Zakir Hussain Busty, a middle-class and densely populated neighbourhood split by a narrow stream, came crashing down.
They said the civic body would probe the reason behind the 10.30pm collapse that also left eight persons injured.
Munna Chhetri, the wife of the building’s owner, Ashok Chhetri, said the concrete building, which collapsed during a light drizzle, used to be maintained well and had adhered to height norms. “We used to repair the house regularly. I don’t know what triggered the collapse.”
Among those who died were sisters Jamila Banu, 60, Sabina Kashmiri, 40, and Naseem Begum, 35. Jamila’s son Alauddin Shah, a curio shop owner, was rescued around 6 this morning, close to eight hours after remaining trapped in the debris. The family lived on the ground floor.
First-floor residents Rajesh Pariyar, a 45-year-old who ran a tailoring business, his wife Anita, 40, and mother Amrita, 60, were found crushed under the debris. Rajesh’s 10-year-old daughter Anjali survived. Surya Prakash Chhetri, a friend of Rajesh, said he, Rajesh and four other friends were supposed to go to Varanasi six days later.
The body of Umbi Habiba, 27, who lived on the second floor, was recovered around 3.30pm. Umbi’s daughter Ifa, 7, and brother-in-law Abdul Salam, 25, are said to be critical and have been shifted to Siliguri district hospital from Darjeeling district hospital.
Umbi’s two-year-old son Md Fayaz, businessman father-in-law Gulab Hussain, 60, and sisters-in-law Sabana Praveen, 25, and Sabina Praveen, 15, suffered minor injuries. Fayaz had been rescued last night itself.
The Chhetri family, the building’s owners who lived on the top floor, were not at home yesterday as they had gone to Siliguri for Asok’s treatment.
The rescue team included army, NDRF, police and fire personnel, while local people also joined in, but progress was slow because of the narrow approach roads to the building.
Sabana, who was among the first to be rescued, said: “We had just finished dinner and I was speaking to my husband over phone as he is in Bihar. Suddenly, I felt the building shake. The next thing I remember is lying in the debris. My sister Sabina was lying nearby. Somehow the light of my cellphone got switched on. The rescuers noticed us probably because of the light,” Sabana said.
Darjeeling district magistrate Anurag Srivastava said the government had decided to give a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of each of the dead and Rs 1 lakh to each of those injured. “The government will also give Rs 10,000 to the families of the deceased to meet the funeral expenses,” he added.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung, the chief executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, has directed the Darjeeling municipality to immediately hold meetings with the owners of dilapidated structures. “A building at the Darjeeling motor stand, another at Chowk Bazar, a supermarket at the motor stand and some structures near the bus stand are in a precarious condition,” he said.
Gurung announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of each of the dead and Rs 50,000 for those who suffered injuries. The municipality will give Rs 50,000 to each of the three families who lost their kin as funeral grant.