At least five people were missing after a seven-storey building collapsed in a residential area of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, rescue services said on Tuesday, and the city's governor appealed to its owner to come forward and provide architectural plans to help rescuers.

Officials said the building's tenants had been asked to leave on Monday after residents reported cracks in the walls.

"People [were] evacuated but we might have some people who might have been left behind," Pius Masai, deputy director of the National Disaster Management Unit, told the Reuters news agency at the site of Monday night's collapse.

The incident occurred in a very low-income neighbourhood near Nairobi's international airport southeast of the capital, Red Cross spokeswoman Noellah Musundi told the AFP news agency.

Kenya has experienced similar tragedies in the past. A total of 49 people died in the middle of last year when another building collapsed during a heavy, nighttime downpour in a poor neighbourhood.

The government ordered the demolition of many other buildings after that incident.

"We hadn't got to a point where we were going to demolish it," Governor Evans Kidero told Reuters of the collapsed building which he confirmed had been listed for demolition.

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Residents of the building said they had noticed cracks a week earlier and that they were plastered over with cement by its owners, before re-emerging again on Monday morning, prompting the call to leave.

Pius Masai, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Unit, told AFP that 128 tenants had been rescued and accounted for by midday on Tuesday.

The rescue operation

Rescuers drawn from various government departments, including the youth service, dug through the rubble of the building with bare hands, pulling out personal items such as broken beds, mattresses and television sets, after a specialist unit from the military cut through walls and floors at the top.

Distraught relatives stood nearby and watched. They included David Kisa, who said he got a call while at work on Monday night about the collapse. His wife and three children were still missing at lunchtime on Tuesday.

Quoting City Hall, The Star newspaper said the structure was built in 2007 without planning permission or approval.

"Kware area was unplanned. No developments are allowed there. But you find that most of these developers were brought by politicians," Nairobi Lands executive Christopher Khaemba told the paper.

Most of the risky buildings are usually in the poorer sections of the city. Attempts to deal with the problem in the past have been stymied by owners of the buildings, who rush to court to stop demolition or other actions.
Kidero asked magistrates and judges to consider the human cost of unsafe buildings before issuing court orders against demolition.

Most of Nairobi's four million people live in low-income areas or slums. 

Kidero said at least 30,000 to 40,000 buildings constructed without approval in the Kenyan capital were at risk of collapse.

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Source: News agencies