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17 Die in Egypt Building Collapse

May 14, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Dozens of family and friends, their dusty faces streaked with tears, stood stunned outside the remains of a collapsed apartment building Sunday, grieving each victim unearthed from the wreckage and questioning who was responsible.

By Sunday evening, 17 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage in downtown Cairo, and at least three more people were feared dead beneath tons of concrete and metal rods.

``God has made a place for them in heaven. There, they will be together,″ said a man comforting another, who cried openly for his relatives who had yet to be recovered. Officials on site said there was little chance anyone inside had survived.

``Do you think anyone would come out alive from under this hell,″ said Mohammed el-Bahii, the chief ambulance officer and one of more than 80 civil defense workers, paramedics, fire fighters and police at the scene.

More than 100 relatives and residents gathered near the broken concrete, and wondered who was responsible.

Residents said they’d paid $330 apiece less than a week ago to have the apartment building repaired. A half-hour before the building collapsed at 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, they had finished a meeting to discuss renovations, including reinforcement supports and repairs to the concrete.

A contractor who came Saturday ``dug a long ditch by the building, where he said he would lay some support rods,″ said Um Ahmed, who lived on the top floor of the five-story building, located in the Sayyida Zeinab district.

``Then he left without putting up the rods,″ she said. Um Ahmed said a neighbor in the next building had called out to her to leave immediately, after the neighbor had seen chunks of concrete fall from the edifice and a small cloud of dust rise from the ground floor.

Um Ahmed, her husband and her 17-year-old daughter, Maha, ran out just five minutes before the building crumpled.

It wasn’t clear how many people lived in the building, but some families had already left in anticipation of the planned construction work.

The city council had ordered the building’s owner, Yousri Mohammed Hosni, to undertake repairs. Hosni was the 11th victim to be pulled out.

Also among the dead was Ashraf Mohammed, his wife, Abeer, and their sons, Mohammed, 2, and Moustafa, 4. Mohammed was found hugging his younger son.

As rescuers using sensors pulled each corpse from the 20-foot-high pile of debris, women let out screams that overpowered the orders rescue officials barked over megaphones.

``My sister, my love, the light of my eye,″ cried one woman, her head covered in the scarf of a devout Muslim. ``Why God, why did this happen?″

Earlier in the day, health ministry officials said a man and a his young son who were walking by the building when it collapsed had been pulled out alive.

Officers atop the rubble ordered onlookers off the debris and surrounding rooftops, as bulldozers shifted and scooped up rubble.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, roamed a school courtyard next to the building, asking residents about the hired contractor and whether a city engineer had been overseeing the work.

Residents were overheard telling them that a district engineer had come to the building Saturday and ordered the work to begin. But just who was involved in the renovation wasn’t yet clear.

The district engineer ``left bags of plaster and cement and supervised the digging of the ditches by the building and then left,″ said Wael Abdel-Nabi, an electrical engineer who lives in a nearby building. ``He didn’t order them to vacate the building.″

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