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2 Buildings Collapse Outside Beirut

November 11, 2000

NAAMEH, Lebanon (AP) _ Scores of rescuers labored with hammers, electric saws and bare hands Saturday to retrieve people believed to still be trapped under a mountain of debris after two four-story apartment buildings collapsed in this town on the Mediterranean coast. At least six people died.

Seven hours after the collapse, a rescuer emerged with 7-month-old Mouna Khan, who was wrapped in a brown blanket, unharmed.

``Praise be to God,″ screamed her uncle, Ibrahim Omeirat, breaking into tears. State-run television later said Khan’s 4-year-old sister was among those who died in Naameh, six miles south of the capital, Beirut.

Civil defense chief Brig. Gen. Darwish Hobeika said six bodies had been recovered and about 27 people hospitalized after the collapse, which happened early Saturday.

Based on information from residents, rescuers estimated there were about five more people buried beneath the slabs of concrete and twisted metal.

Wafiq Mezher, the owner of the buildings, was arrested Saturday in northern Lebanon as he tried to flee the country with his family. An investigation was under way.

Witnesses said residents reported cracks in the buildings’ foundations two hours before the collapse. Municipal officers carried out a nighttime inspection of the two adjacent buildings and advised residents to leave.

However, Mezher’s son, who also inspected the buildings, assured residents that the structures were safe, according to Kamal Awad, one of the residents.

``He told us not to worry, nothing will happen,″ said Awad, who lived in a third-story apartment. ``Go back to sleep, on my responsibility.″

Witnesses said they saw a flash from snapping electrical wires as the buildings went down.

``I could not believe my eyes,″ said Youssef Habib, who was smoking a waterpipe on a balcony across the street when the buildings collapsed. ``There was a flash and in a second the buildings disappeared and dust rose.″

``I thought it was an Israeli raid,″ said Khadijeh Saleh, who also lives across from the collapsed buildings and whose two sisters were still buried under the rubble.

The Mezher Residential Complex, which includes 20 buildings, was ordered evacuated.

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