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2 Buildings Collapse Outside Beirut

November 11, 2000

NAAMEH, Lebanon (AP) _ Two four-story apartment buildings collapsed on sleeping residents early Saturday, killing at least three people and injuring about 27, officials said.

Scores of rescuers worked under floodlights with hammers and bare hands to retrieve about five more people who were trapped under the rubble of one of the buildings in Naameh, on the Mediterranean coast 6 miles south of Beirut, civil defense officials said. They were later joined by soldiers.

Rescuers had established contact with up to five trapped people, Interior Minister Elias Murr said.

Seven hours after the collapse, a rescuer retrieved a 7-month-old girl, Mouna Khan, who was wrapped in a blanket and unharmed.

``Praise be to God,″ screamed her uncle, Ibrahim Omeirat, breaking in tears. But he stayed nearby, hoping for word about his sister, who was still buried.

Rescuers lowered a hose to a survivor whose legs were trapped beneath concrete slabs, helping him to breathe as they worked feverishly to cut through twisted metal to free him.

Civil defense chief Brig. Gen. Darwish Hobeika told The Associated Press at the scene that three bodies were recovered and about 27 people were hospitalized after the 1:00 a.m. collapse.

The rescue of a 15-year-old girl was briefly interrupted when a fist fight broke out between firefighters and Red Cross volunteers over who should be in charge. Sandra Safieddine was later retrieved alive.

State-run television reported that a 9-year-old girl and a 1-month-old boy were pulled out alive. The owner of the buildings, it said, was detained in northern Lebanon as he tried to flee the country with his family.

Witnesses said residents reported cracks in the buildings’ foundations two hours before the collapse. Municipal officers carried out a nighttime inspection of the two buildings, which were next to each other, and advised residents to leave.

Some families left, while others went back to sleep.

Kamal Awad, a third-floor resident who works in construction, said the building owner also was called and had sent his son to inspect. ``He told us not to worry, nothing will happen. Go back to sleep, on my responsibility,″ he recalled.

So Awad went to bed about 30 minutes before the collapse.

``I woke up covered with dust and stones. I started screaming. The neighbors pulled me out along with my wife, 2-year-old daughter and my mother,″ said Awad, 40, who was waiting for word on trapped neighbors.

A flash caused by an electrical short from snapping wires was reported 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. It was unbelievable.″

Other buildings in the Mezher Residential Complex were ordered evacuated, according to Information Minister Ghazi Aridi.

State-run television said Murr, one of four Cabinet ministers who rushed to the scene to oversee the rescue operation, ordered an investigation.

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