In Rio, last night, at around 8:30 pm, a 21-story building collapsed following what eyewitnesses described as two or three loud explosion-like sounds. A bystander claimed that plaster fell off the building just before it came down.
There are reports that construction work was taking place on the fifth floor of the building. When the building fell, it fell to the side hitting another building with ten stories. Both buildings buried another four-story building that was located between them.
The three buildings were located on Avenida Treze de Maio right in the historical center of Rio de Janeiro, next to an area known as Cinelândia and just behind the Municipal Theater.
In the past the region was full of movie houses. In March last year, when US president Barack Obama visited Rio, there were plans for him to give an open-air speech in Cinelândia in front of the theater; in the end, Obama made his speech inside the theater.
Because of the time the accident occurred the buildings, office buildings, were mostly empty. There was a bank and a bakery on the ground floor of one of the constructions. However, the latest reports from the scene are that three people died, four people have been taken to hospital and around 20 are missing.
As a number of streets in the heart of Rio de Janeiro are closed this morning (including a main transportation artery, Avenida Rio Branco) while the search for victims and removal of debris takes place, city authorities have asked people who work in the area to just stay home.
The Cinelândia, Carioca, Uruguaiana and Presidente Vargas subway stations in the center of the city are closed.
Last night, a number of witnesses, covered in dust, filmed by TV cameras against a background of debris 30 meters high, compared the scene in downtown Rio to New York on 9/11.