Emergency workers pulled four survivors from a collapsed building on Tuesday as rescue teams from Israel, Britain and the United States arrived in the Kenyan capital, but the death toll rose to 14 despite their efforts. The arrival of special power tools that can cut through slabs of concrete and iron rods dramatically sped up the rescue effort as the clock ticked past the 24-hour mark since the five-story building collapsed on unsuspecting laborers. The Israelis have also started using high-tech detection equipment to look for survivors.
Kenyan Army Maj. Gen. Paul Opiyo, who was leading the operation, said rescuers had found four additional survivors under the rubble and hoped to free them soon.
"If there are holes or air pockets, we can save many people," said Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Gershon, leader of the 140-member Israeli team made up of soldiers and other rescuers. Within two hours, his team pulled out two survivors and two other survivors were pulled out just before dawn Tuesday.
He said eight bodies had been recovered and two remained crushed in the rubble. Hospital officials say four people have died so far while undergoing treatment for critical injuries. Doctors appealed for blood donations at Kenyatta General Hospital, where 42 victims remained in stable condition,
Workers had struggled throughout the night to reach survivors using sledgehammers, metal-cutters and crowbars while shouting encouragement through drainage pipes and holes in the rubble. Rescuers did not know the exact number of people trapped, but they could hear tapping or muted voices from four places in the rubble and were concentrating their efforts in those areas, police spokesman Superintendent Jaspher Ombati said.
"We have to move quickly to get them out," Ombati said, adding that authorities were concerned about further collapse.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Hussein Ali, the police commissioner, said detectives have opened a criminal investigation into the collapse. The construction workers had just finished lunch Monday and many were taking a nap when the five-story building began to sway, then quickly collapsed, witnesses said. About 280 construction workers were at the construction site in central Nairobi when the building came down, survivors said.
Officials have accounted for 106 people, including the dead and injured, Opiyo said.
Most of the workers were day laborers and no one has been able to provide authorities with a detailed list of who was at the site.
"Some were lying down for a nap. They were too tired after working for at least six hours," said food vendor Jane Wanji, 32. "We felt the building shake and those of us who were on the rooftop jumped onto the roof of the next building. We then watched it collapse."
Wanji was one of several women who had set up stalls inside the building to sell food to workers and some had brought their children with them. A 2-year-old boy was among the injured.
One construction worker, who would not give his name, said Monday that an inspector had warned last week that the structure was not safe and they were trying to stabilize the building.
U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy engineers based in nearby Djibouti were on the scene early Tuesday to see what assistance they could provide. A British team of experts arrived Tuesday afternoon.
Raila Odinga, the main opposition leader and a member of parliament, said a thorough investigation into the collapse was needed and that those found responsible should face the death penalty.
"I suspect the building collapsed because they used poor materials or that the job was rushed," he said.
President Mwai Kibaki announced he was cutting short an official visit to Sudan to coordinate rescue efforts, reports the AP.