About five people were reported missing after a seven-storey building collapsed in Kware area in Embakasi, Nairobi, rescue services said on Tuesday.
Governor Evans Kidero appealed to its owner to come forward and provide architectural plans to help rescuers.
Kidero, speaking at the scene of the collapse, said at least 30,000 to 40,000 buildings constructed without approval in thecapital were at risk.
Officials said the building's tenants had been asked to leave on Monday after residents reported cracks in the walls. At least 128 had heeded the call to leave.
"We are looking for almost five people, the confirmed one is a family of four. The husband is out but the wife and children are suspected to be inside the building," Pius Masai, deputy director of the National Disaster Management Unit, told Reuters at the site of Monday night's collapse.
Kenya has seen 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," Kidero said of the collapsed building which he confirmed had been listed for demolition.
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.
POORER PARTS OF CITY
The advice to leave spared some who might have been trapped when the building came down in the evening.
"Some came from work late and tried to go in and collect their goods," said Dennis Mosoti, one of the building's tenants.
Rescuers drawn from various government departments, including the youth service, dug through the rubble of the building with bare hands, pulling out personal items like 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 Kisia, 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.
"I have told them that my family is to the back of the building but they are insisting on finishing one side first," Kisia complained about the rescuers' approach.
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.
"They should not come in our way because the result is what we have seen here," he said.
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