Penang deputy police chief Mohamad Usuf Jan Mohamad said two of the victims died at the site of the incident at Batu Maung while another died in hospital.
He added that two seriously injured workers were sent to Penang Hospital for treatment, while four others are believed to have been buried under the rubble.
“We received information about the incident at 9.45pm claiming 18 construction workers were feared trapped when a building under construction collapsed,” said the deputy police chief.
However, the police were later notified that nine of the 18 had gone out for prayers.
“During the incident, the workers were working under a 12m beam that weighed about 14 tonnes. The beam later collapsed over the workers and piled up over other beams.”
Mohidul Islam, 43, said he had been with four others doing carpentry work on the top floor of the warehouse when he decided to take a break and left his workstation.
“Suddenly I heard a loud noise and the situation became chaotic after realising that there was a collapse of the structure that was under construction.
“Most of us here have only been working at this project site for three months … I am very sad because I have friends who died in the incident,” he said, adding that he was grateful to have avoided the accident.
Another worker, Md Ikhtiar, said he had been working on the ground floor when he suddenly felt the structure of the building swaying.
“I immediately went out of the building after hearing screams from other workers and then saw the building collapse.
“One of the victims managed to be pulled out from the rubble, but his condition was bad and he died shortly after,” said the 38-year-old.
Search and rescue efforts continued on Wednesday morning and a stop work order has been issued.
The Fire and Rescue Department (JBPM) said in a statement that it was removing the collapsed structure using heavy machinery.
“A crane has been used to lift the heavy beam structure that blocks the entrance to the collapsed building and this task will take some time.”
It added that it was having problems lifting the fallen beams to get to the victims buried under the rubble.
“This is because the beams are heavy and large concrete structures. We need machinery to lift and clear the area so that the rescue team can access the location of the victims. We use a crane and the service of a tracker to detect any unreported victims.
“We will continue the operation until all the victims are found and brought out.”