SRINAGAR, India — A three-story children's hospital collapsed in the northern Indian city of Jammu today, killing at least 21 people, mostly young patients, hospital officials said.
Hospital Supt. D. R. Manhas, told Reuters that 21 bodies had been recovered so far and that there had been about 66 patients inside.
Manhas, reached by telephone from Srinagar, said he believed that no more than 30 people died in the collapse, well short of the feared 150 deaths reported by unofficial sources.
Officials in Jammu said at least 25 children left their wards screaming, "run, run" as the top two floors of the building began to cave in early in the morning.
They said army troops, helped by hundreds of civilians, used a crane and other heavy equipment as others clawed at the debris with their hands to reach children and hospital staff trapped under the rubble.
Rescuers were pumping oxygen and drinking water through the debris in hopes of sustaining any survivors.
A police spokesman in Jammu said the collapse was caused by foundation failure of the new wing of the government-run hospital. The new wing, made of concrete and bricks, was added to the old building in 1984. The old wing is still standing.
"The entire new wing has come down. Much of it has just gone inside the earth," said spokesman Satish Gupta.
Kashmir Times reporter Arun Joshi said cracks in the structure prompted authorities to evacuate about 35 children on Sunday.
The government has ordered an investigation, and three civil engineers who were responsible for construction have been suspended.
Gupta said it will take at least 24 hours to remove the debris. "Until then it is all guesswork, but we fear the toll will go up," he said.
Jammu, with a population of 500,000, is the second largest city in Kashmir, which borders Pakistan and China.
Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah rushed to Jammu from Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, to supervise operations. He learned of the disaster during ceremonies marking the annual shifting of the capital from Jammu to Srinagar.