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5 Dead in Brazil Buildings Collapse

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim after a building collapsed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jan. 26, 2012.
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim after a building collapsed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jan. 26, 2012.

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 Cesar 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 September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

"At first I thought someone was throwing rubble, that it was nothing serious," he said. "Then I started to take some steps back and all of a sudden the building collapsed. It came down completely."

"I was walking on the path when all of a sudden the building collapsed," said Rio de Janeiro resident Aloisio Pereira. "It was connected to this other building here and it just collapsed so we ran out. We tried to see if there was anyone inside, but we could not tell."

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.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.