To midmorning strollers on Rio's Copacabana Beach, the rending roar and the billowing cloud of dust seemed like a newsreel shot of a bomb explosion. An almost completed, twelve-story apartment building had crashed to the ground in a pile of bricks, iron and beach sand. Last week, 300 rescuers, working night & day in heat and stench, had recovered bodies of eight workmen. The search went on for eleven more.

For months, Rio had splurged in a colossal building boom whose economic base was no sounder than the sleazy apartment house which so...

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