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Search for survivorsin Cairo collapse ends

The search for survivors in a collapsed 11-story building in a Cairo suburb ended Tuesday, after 14 bodies were found, as bulldozers began clearing the rubble.
Rescue workers look for survivors under the rubble of a collapsed building in Cairo Tuesday.Mona Sharaf / REUTERS
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rescue workers using bulldozers and cranes lifted debris of a collapsed 11-story building Tuesday as hope faded that more survivors could be found. At least 14 people — mostly firefighters and police responding to a blaze in the building — were dead.

The structure collapsed Monday night in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City after a fire broke out in Souq al-Wahda, a small appliance store on the ground floor.

After working under spotlights through the night and into Tuesday afternoon, 14 bodies had been recovered — 12 firefighters and police officers as well as two private citizens, according to rescue officials on the scene.

Rescue workers believed they had recovered the bodies of all their missing personnel, but were continuing the search in case other civilians were trapped.

Gen. Mohammed el-Moayyed, in charge of rescue efforts on the scene, said he had called for rescue workers from the armed forces to help in order to speed the work.

Most residents had been evacuated by the time of the collapse, authorities said.

The building was built in 1981, and police said the owner illegally added four more floors 12 years ago. An order from the city to tear down the extra floors two years ago was never executed. Six days ago, tenants complained to police, saying renovation in the appliance store could damage the building’s foundations.

The owner of the building, Khalaf Mohammed Abu Diab, was injured and under arrest in a local hospital, according to Egypt’s semiofficial Middle East News Agency.

Twelve hours after the collapse, bulldozers and cranes were removing debris of the upper levels of the building, including satellite dishes and rooftop water tanks, to open routes in to where they believe people are trapped.

Thirty-three people were hospitalized with injuries, Health Minister Mohammed Awad Tag Eddin said. He ordered free treatment for the injured.

The 11-story building collapsed in accordion fashion, with the top floor smashing down until it was level with the second and third floors of neighboring buildings. Several satellite dishes rested intact on the roof. A panda toy, slippers, bags and a brass pot were scattered in the debris.

Masoud Issa, a doorman for a nearby building, watched as firefighters and police cleared the burning building Monday night. “Suddenly, we heard a sound, whoosh, and the whole area was full of dust,” Issa said.

Rescue officials evacuated two adjacent buildings that were damaged by the collapse as firefighters and policemen worked under floodlights until dawn, looking for survivors or bodies.
Capt. Amer Abdul-Rahim Amira, a firefighter, was among those still missing Tuesday morning.

His mother, Khalida, said the last she’d heard from him was when he called from the scene after midnight to say he was fighting a fire in the area.

“Pray with us he will come out safely. We need him to return to his family,” she said, crying along with Amira’s wife, sisters and an uncle who’d been at the scene most of the night.

Another fire brigade officer was pulled alive from the rubble during the night, his face covered with dust. He was rushed to an ambulance amid cries of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” from neighborhood residents.

Mahmoud el-Sayyed, a 21-year-old waiter in a nearby restaurant, said he helped rescue two firefighters as smoke engulfed the neighborhood.

“Their lower parts were trapped. I held the head of one of them” as rescuers removed concrete slabs by hand. “After about two hours, we managed to pull the man out,” he told The Associated Press.

The building was located on the main commercial Abbas Al-Aqqad Street in Nasr City, an eastern suburb of the Egyptian capital near the airport. The area is home to many high-rise residential buildings and shopping centers.

Minister of Local Development Mustafa Abdel-Qader said Egypt’s prosecutor-general and the government run Construction Research Center have begun investigating license violations and the cause of the collapse. Local zoning rules would permit only a six or seven-story building at the site, he said.

“We need to know what exactly went wrong,” Abdel-Qader said.

Building collapses are common in Egypt and are often caused by shoddy construction or the unauthorized building of extra stories.

The last such collapse was May 4, when a seven-story apartment block in Cairo collapsed, killing at least seven people.