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Pictures | Thu May 9, 2019 | 5:50pm EDT

Celebrating Chinese immigrants who built cross-America railroad

This image, titled "East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail, 1869" taken on Imperial collodion glass plate negative, shows the celebration of the completion of the intercontinental railroad when the Central Pacific Railroad from the west and the Union Pacific Railroad from the east met at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869. Courtesy Andrew J. Russell/Oakland Museum of California/Handout via REUTERS

This image, titled "East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail, 1869" taken on Imperial collodion glass plate negative, shows the celebration of the completion of the intercontinental railroad when the Central Pacific Railroad from the west and...more

This image, titled "East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail, 1869" taken on Imperial collodion glass plate negative, shows the celebration of the completion of the intercontinental railroad when the Central Pacific Railroad from the west and the Union Pacific Railroad from the east met at Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869. Courtesy Andrew J. Russell/Oakland Museum of California/Handout via REUTERS
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Connie Young Yu, 77, a descendant of a Chinese Transcontinental Railroad worker, teaches a fencing class, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, in San Jose, California, May 1, 2019. Yu says that when her parents joined a delegation of fellow Chinese-Americans attending a 1969 event commemorating the centennial of the first U.S. Transcontinental Railroad, they were snubbed, upstaged by Hollywood star John Wayne.

Now 50 years later, she and others descended from Chinese immigrants who built much of the cross-country rail line are looking forward to the 150th "Golden Spike" anniversary in Utah for rightful recognition they say is long overdue.

"It's our connection to and participation in American society," Yu, 77, a board member of the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco, told Reuters in a recent interview.  REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Connie Young Yu, 77, a descendant of a Chinese Transcontinental Railroad worker, teaches a fencing class, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, in San Jose, California, May 1, 2019. Yu says that when her parents joined a...more

Connie Young Yu, 77, a descendant of a Chinese Transcontinental Railroad worker, teaches a fencing class, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, in San Jose, California, May 1, 2019. Yu says that when her parents joined a delegation of fellow Chinese-Americans attending a 1969 event commemorating the centennial of the first U.S. Transcontinental Railroad, they were snubbed, upstaged by Hollywood star John Wayne. Now 50 years later, she and others descended from Chinese immigrants who built much of the cross-country rail line are looking forward to the 150th "Golden Spike" anniversary in Utah for rightful recognition they say is long overdue. "It's our connection to and participation in American society," Yu, 77, a board member of the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco, told Reuters in a recent interview. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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A certificate of residence, which belonged to one of Connie Young Yu's ancestors and was required under federal Chinese Exclusion Laws passed after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, is seen in San Jose, California, May 1, 2019. Yu's great-grandfather, Lee Wong Sang, was a foreman on the 19th-century project, for which railroad contractors recruited thousands of Chinese, mostly Cantonese-speaking laborers from China's Guangdong province.

They made up the bulk of workers for the Central Pacific, or western, segment of the railway, laying track and carving railbeds over and through the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains. They uniformly worked longer hours for less pay than their white counterparts on the Union Pacific, and performed the most dangerous work. There were no power tools. Virtually all work was done by hand.
Untold numbers - as many as 1,200 by some estimates - perished in blasting accidents, snowslides, falls and other mishaps.

"We Cantonese feel a pride that our roots are in these hardworking people who built this great iron road that connected America," Yu said, adding she will be speaking for all immigrants when she addresses Friday's event on behalf of the Chinese-American delegation.

 REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A certificate of residence, which belonged to one of Connie Young Yu's ancestors and was required under federal Chinese Exclusion Laws passed after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, is seen in San Jose, California, May 1, 2019. Yu's...more

A certificate of residence, which belonged to one of Connie Young Yu's ancestors and was required under federal Chinese Exclusion Laws passed after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, is seen in San Jose, California, May 1, 2019. Yu's great-grandfather, Lee Wong Sang, was a foreman on the 19th-century project, for which railroad contractors recruited thousands of Chinese, mostly Cantonese-speaking laborers from China's Guangdong province. They made up the bulk of workers for the Central Pacific, or western, segment of the railway, laying track and carving railbeds over and through the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains. They uniformly worked longer hours for less pay than their white counterparts on the Union Pacific, and performed the most dangerous work. There were no power tools. Virtually all work was done by hand. Untold numbers - as many as 1,200 by some estimates - perished in blasting accidents, snowslides, falls and other mishaps. "We Cantonese feel a pride that our roots are in these hardworking people who built this great iron road that connected America," Yu said, adding she will be speaking for all immigrants when she addresses Friday's event on behalf of the Chinese-American delegation. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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Russell Low, 66, of San Diego, whose great-grandfather, Hung Lai Wah, emigrated from China to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, looks at a trestle on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. Initiated during the Civil War and taking six years to complete, the railway's construction transformed America's Western frontier, accelerating Anglo-European settlement of the vast region and aligning it politically with the Union states of the North. It also hastened the demise of the Plains Indians, as well as the bison herds on which they depended. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Russell Low, 66, of San Diego, whose great-grandfather, Hung Lai Wah, emigrated from China to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, looks at a trestle on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the...more

Russell Low, 66, of San Diego, whose great-grandfather, Hung Lai Wah, emigrated from China to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, looks at a trestle on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. Initiated during the Civil War and taking six years to complete, the railway's construction transformed America's Western frontier, accelerating Anglo-European settlement of the vast region and aligning it politically with the Union states of the North. It also hastened the demise of the Plains Indians, as well as the bison herds on which they depended. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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A group including descendants of Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers tours sites on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. 

REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A group including descendants of Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers tours sites on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray...more

A group including descendants of Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers tours sites on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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A Chinese railroad workers' camp is seen at the end of the track, in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, Nevada, U.S. before the completion of the intercontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Karen Kwan, a Democrat in the Utah House of Representatives who helped organize this year's Golden Spike event, said plans for highlighting the contributions of Chinese immigrants was "righting a wrong."

"Our names were not recorded by and large. We were not given the recognition that we should have been given," said Kwan, the first Chinese-American elected to Utah's legislature. "Asian-Americans as a whole are often thought of as perpetual foreigners." Courtesy Alfred A. Hart/Stanford University/Handout via REUTERS

A Chinese railroad workers' camp is seen at the end of the track, in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, Nevada, U.S. before the completion of the intercontinental railroad...more

A Chinese railroad workers' camp is seen at the end of the track, in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, Nevada, U.S. before the completion of the intercontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Karen Kwan, a Democrat in the Utah House of Representatives who helped organize this year's Golden Spike event, said plans for highlighting the contributions of Chinese immigrants was "righting a wrong." "Our names were not recorded by and large. We were not given the recognition that we should have been given," said Kwan, the first Chinese-American elected to Utah's legislature. "Asian-Americans as a whole are often thought of as perpetual foreigners." Courtesy Alfred A. Hart/Stanford University/Handout via REUTERS
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Sue Lee, former director of the Chinese Historical Society of America, poses for a photo before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, in Chinatown in San Francisco, California, April 30, 2019. Backlash against the Chinese following completion of the Transcontinental Railroad led to the passage of the federal Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, marking the first significant law restricting U.S. immigration.

Remaining on the books until 1943, the exclusion laws drove many immigrants to alter their names and falsify family ties, playing a role in making it hard for Chinese-Americans to trace their roots, according to San Francisco-based historian Sue Lee.

Other factors include a general lack of records listing individual Chinese workers by name and the fact that many returned to their homeland after the project ended, Lee said. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Sue Lee, former director of the Chinese Historical Society of America, poses for a photo before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, in Chinatown in San Francisco, California, April 30, 2019. Backlash against the...more

Sue Lee, former director of the Chinese Historical Society of America, poses for a photo before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, in Chinatown in San Francisco, California, April 30, 2019. Backlash against the Chinese following completion of the Transcontinental Railroad led to the passage of the federal Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, marking the first significant law restricting U.S. immigration. Remaining on the books until 1943, the exclusion laws drove many immigrants to alter their names and falsify family ties, playing a role in making it hard for Chinese-Americans to trace their roots, according to San Francisco-based historian Sue Lee. Other factors include a general lack of records listing individual Chinese workers by name and the fact that many returned to their homeland after the project ended, Lee said. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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Artifacts are seen at a site on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Artifacts are seen at a site on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Artifacts are seen at a site on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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Andrea Yee, 80, holds a photo of her great-grandfather, Lim Lip Hong, who emigrated from China and worked on the Transcontinental Railroad, and his wife, Chan Shee, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, in her home in Berkeley, California, May 1, 2019.  REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Andrea Yee, 80, holds a photo of her great-grandfather, Lim Lip Hong, who emigrated from China and worked on the Transcontinental Railroad, and his wife, Chan Shee, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, in her home in...more

Andrea Yee, 80, holds a photo of her great-grandfather, Lim Lip Hong, who emigrated from China and worked on the Transcontinental Railroad, and his wife, Chan Shee, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, in her home in Berkeley, California, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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A group including descendants of Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers visits a trestle on a historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A group including descendants of Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers visits a trestle on a historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray...more

A group including descendants of Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers visits a trestle on a historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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A group of Chinese workers with sledgehammers stand and rest on boulders at the bottom of a rocky cliff near the opening of Summit Tunnel, in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, near Donner Pass, California, before the completion of the intercontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Courtesy Alfred A. Hart/Stanford University/Handout via REUTERS

A group of Chinese workers with sledgehammers stand and rest on boulders at the bottom of a rocky cliff near the opening of Summit Tunnel, in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad...more

A group of Chinese workers with sledgehammers stand and rest on boulders at the bottom of a rocky cliff near the opening of Summit Tunnel, in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, near Donner Pass, California, before the completion of the intercontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Courtesy Alfred A. Hart/Stanford University/Handout via REUTERS
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Gary Hom, 87, holds a photo of his great-grandfather, Hom Yee Yeu, who emigrated from China in 1868 to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, in his home in Burlingame, California, April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Gary Hom, 87, holds a photo of his great-grandfather, Hom Yee Yeu, who emigrated from China in 1868 to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, in his home in Burlingame, California, April...more

Gary Hom, 87, holds a photo of his great-grandfather, Hom Yee Yeu, who emigrated from China in 1868 to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, in his home in Burlingame, California, April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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Utah Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Chris Merritt leads a tour for descendants of Chinese railroad workers on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Utah Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Chris Merritt leads a tour for descendants of Chinese railroad workers on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah,...more

Utah Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Chris Merritt leads a tour for descendants of Chinese railroad workers on the historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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A Chinese railroad worker is seen at the heading of The East Portal Tunnel No 8 from Donner Lake Railroad, in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, near Truckee, California, before the completion of the intercontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Courtesy Alfred A. Hart/Stanford University/Handout via REUTERS

A Chinese railroad worker is seen at the heading of The East Portal Tunnel No 8 from Donner Lake Railroad, in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, near Truckee, California,...more

A Chinese railroad worker is seen at the heading of The East Portal Tunnel No 8 from Donner Lake Railroad, in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, near Truckee, California, before the completion of the intercontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Courtesy Alfred A. Hart/Stanford University/Handout via REUTERS
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Paulette Liang, 76, poses for a portrait with a photo of her great-grandfather, Lum Ah Chew, who emigrated from China in 1860 and worked on the Transcontinental Railroad, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, near her home in San Francisco, California, May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Paulette Liang, 76, poses for a portrait with a photo of her great-grandfather, Lum Ah Chew, who emigrated from China in 1860 and worked on the Transcontinental Railroad, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, near her home...more

Paulette Liang, 76, poses for a portrait with a photo of her great-grandfather, Lum Ah Chew, who emigrated from China in 1860 and worked on the Transcontinental Railroad, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the railroad, near her home in San Francisco, California, May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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Utah Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Chris Merritt leads a tour for descendants of Chinese railroad workers on a historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Utah Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Chris Merritt leads a tour for descendants of Chinese railroad workers on a historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah,...more

Utah Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Chris Merritt leads a tour for descendants of Chinese railroad workers on a historic railroad grade, before the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, near Kelton, Utah, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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A camp of Chinese workers near Brown's Station is seen in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, in Churchill County, Nevada, before the completion of the intercontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Courtesy Alfred A. Hart/Stanford University/Handout via REUTERS

A camp of Chinese workers near Brown's Station is seen in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, in Churchill County, Nevada, before the completion of the intercontinental...more

A camp of Chinese workers near Brown's Station is seen in this historical documentary photograph taken during the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad 1866-1869, in Churchill County, Nevada, before the completion of the intercontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Courtesy Alfred A. Hart/Stanford University/Handout via REUTERS
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Volunteer Chuck Holmes, of Detroit, MI, greets visitors near a replica of the Central Pacific Railroad's historic Jupiter steam engine at Golden Spike National Historic Park in Promontory, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Volunteer Chuck Holmes, of Detroit, MI, greets visitors near a replica of the Central Pacific Railroad's historic Jupiter steam engine at Golden Spike National Historic Park in Promontory, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Volunteer Chuck Holmes, of Detroit, MI, greets visitors near a replica of the Central Pacific Railroad's historic Jupiter steam engine at Golden Spike National Historic Park in Promontory, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 is seen in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 is seen in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 is seen in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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Photograph titled "Chinese laying last Rail," taken on a Stereographic collodion glass plate negative by Andrew J. Russell, at the completion of the intercontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869, is seen from "Andrew J. Russell Collection" at the Oakland Museum of California. Courtesy Andrew J. Russell/Oakland Museum of California/Handout via REUTERS

Photograph titled "Chinese laying last Rail," taken on a Stereographic collodion glass plate negative by Andrew J. Russell, at the completion of the intercontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869, is seen from "Andrew J. Russell...more

Photograph titled "Chinese laying last Rail," taken on a Stereographic collodion glass plate negative by Andrew J. Russell, at the completion of the intercontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869, is seen from "Andrew J. Russell Collection" at the Oakland Museum of California. Courtesy Andrew J. Russell/Oakland Museum of California/Handout via REUTERS
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A Chinese tour group looks at the Nevada Silver Spike, and the gold Last Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A Chinese tour group looks at the Nevada Silver Spike, and the gold Last Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A Chinese tour group looks at the Nevada Silver Spike, and the gold Last Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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A replica of the last railroad tie laid on the Transcontinental Railroad is seen at Golden Spike National Historic Park in Promontory, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A replica of the last railroad tie laid on the Transcontinental Railroad is seen at Golden Spike National Historic Park in Promontory, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A replica of the last railroad tie laid on the Transcontinental Railroad is seen at Golden Spike National Historic Park in Promontory, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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An inscription is seen on the gold Last Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

An inscription is seen on the gold Last Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

An inscription is seen on the gold Last Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad in the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
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