Five killed in Egypt tower block collapse

Other News Materials 24 December 2007 23:56 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - At least five people including a young girl were killed and 20 reported missing when a 12-storey block of flats collapsed in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria on Monday, the latest in a string of such disasters in recent years.

Ambulances and civil defence teams rushed to the scene of the disaster in the Loran district in the east of the Mediterranean coastal city, where five bodies were pulled from the rubble, a security source said.

The dead included a four-year-old girl, two women and two men, the source said, adding that seven others had been injured and rescued while another 20 people were believed to be trapped under the rubble.

"It's too slow, they're not doing it right," said Ahmed Ayub, whose brother Salaheddin, his brother's wife and their young children lay trapped somewhere beneath the rubble.

The source said the building was home to between 40 and 50 people but that the accident happened in the morning after many residents had left for work or school.

Anxious relatives were held back as police set up a cordon around the devastated area in Alexandria, Egypt's second city and its main seaport with around four million inhabitants.

Rescue workers picked through the rubble, carefully heaving aside pieces of concrete and mangled steel among the satellite dishes usually found on Egyptian rooftops that had been brought tumbling down.

Local authorities had ordered the removal of the building's top two floors in 1995 because they contravened building laws but the order was not implemented, the source said.

A housing official was quoted by MENA as saying that the building was built without a construction permit 25 years ago.

"The governor should have done something. They let these people do what they want, until the building collapses," said Mahmud al-Gamal, who lives in a neighbouring building.

Alexandria governor Adel Labib said some workers had been renovating the first floor when the building suddenly tilted to one side and then collapsed, the official MENA news agency said.

Labib ordered the two buildings on either side of the ruin to be evacuated after they also partially collapsed.

Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud issued an arrest warrant for the building owners and for the estate agent in charge of restoration work as part of an investigation to determine the cause of the collapse, a statement from his office said.

The owners of the building had been ordered several times in the past and as late as 2002 to renovate the dilapidated building but work was repeatedly delayed due to "conflicts" with residents, the statement said.

Building collapses are a frequent occurrence in Egypt. Many structures are unauthorised and built in breach of regulations or with poor materials.

Two people were killed in May in the Cairo working class district of Sayyeda Zeinab when an old building collapsed as workers were restoring it.

In October 2006, seven people were killed when a four-storey building collapsed in the Nile delta city of Mansura.

A year earlier, at least 16 people, including two children, were killed and 17 injured when a six-storey building collapsed in Alexandria. Three storeys had been added on illegally to the building.

Penalties against construction cowboys were boosted in 1996, shortly after the collapse of a building in the upmarket Cairo neighbourhood of Heliopolis left 64 people dead.

Just before a 1992 earthquake that killed 500 people in Cairo, the government Al-Ahram newspaper quoted officials as saying 40 percent of homes in the Egyptian capital were threatened with collapse.

Alexandria stretches for around 20 miles (30 kilometres) along the Mediterranean coast and is a popular holiday destination for Egyptian and foreign tourists.

Monday's accident happened the day after the end of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha when Alexandria would have been packed with tourists.

The city had a bustling cosmopolitan life before the 1952 revolution that toppled the regime of King Farouk, with large Italian and Greek communities as well as many other Europeans.

One of its landmarks, the Alexandria lighthouse, among the seven ancient wonders of the world, was built in the 3rd century BC on the island of Pharos off the coastline but was destroyed by two earthquakes in 1303 and 1323.

The search for survivors from Monday's collapse was expected to last through the night and into Tuesday.