Toll from Tanzanian building collapse hits 19

The death toll from a building collapse in Tanzania's economic capital Dar es Salaam rose to 19 Saturday, after rescuers hoping to find survivors among dozens still feared trapped under the rubble pulled out more bodies.

"Two more bodies were found this afternoon," regional commissioner Saidi Mecky Sadicky told AFP, updating an earlier toll of 17 in the disaster that happened on Friday.

Several dozen people are still missing around the site, which was littered with huge chunks of concrete.

"The operation is still going on but we have very little hope to find anyone alive," Sadicky said.

Eighteen people have been rescued alive from the remains of the 16-storey building, he said. However it is almost 24 hours since the last survivors were pulled out.

Hundreds of rescuers worked through the night in search of those still trapped in the rubble from the shell of the tower, which was being built near a mosque in the Kisutu area of Dar es Salaam.

Rescue work was slowed Saturday afternoon after it started to rain.

Sadicky said between 60 and 70 people were reported to have been at or near the construction site Friday morning, meaning that between 25 and 35 people could still be trapped.

Hundreds of people, including residents and army rescuers, clawed through piles of rubble in the hunt for survivors, alongside earthmovers and excavators.

"I thought there was an earthquake and then I heard screaming. The whole building fell on itself," witness Musa Mohamed told AFP on Friday shortly after the collapse

Sadicky said the rescue team was boosted Friday evening after the Chinese embassy told Chinese construction firms to provide additional earthmoving equipment.

Dozens of Chinese construction workers were at the site Saturday instructing operators of excavators and forklifts that were sifting through the rubble.

Local residents turned out to supply rescuers with food, water and medication.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete visited the scene of the disaster in the coastal city and posted messages of condolence on his Twitter account.

"We pray for those who have been afflicted by this tragedy," he said. "We pray for togetherness in this time of need."

In 2008, another building that collapsed in Dar es Salaam claimed at least four lives.

"It looks like the city authorities are not serious with the enforcement of construction and housing laws. Incidents of collapsing buildings are on the increase," resident Rashid Abdallah said.

The ill-fated building is a joint project between the state-owned National Housing Corporation and Ladha Construction Limited under a private-public partnership arrangement.

Sadicky said investigations into the cause of the accident are under way and police are holding for questioning six people -- the owners of the building and officials from both the construction firm and Dar es Salaam City Council.