Collapse of Apartment Building in Egypt Kills 23
An eight-story apartment building collapsed Wednesday in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, killing at least 23 people in the second deadly accident to hit the country in as many days, according to police and health officials.
Senior Health Ministry official Mohammed el-Sharqawy said 11 people also were injured and that rescue teams were searching for survivors under the rubble. Military police from a nearby naval base cordoned off the area to help the rescue operation.
The collapse came a day after 19 police conscripts were killed when the last car of the train they were riding in jumped the tracks and smashed into another train just outside Cairo.
It was not immediately clear what caused the building to collapse in a poor district of the Mediterranean port city, but violations of building specifications have been blamed for similar accidents in the past. The governor of Alexandria, Mohammed Abbas Atta, told Egypt’s official news agency that the building was constructed without a permit.
Abul Ezz el-Hariri, an opposition lawmaker from Alexandria, warned that hundreds of buildings in the city face the same fate, but that lax law enforcement following the ouster two years ago of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak means that no action is being taken against building violations.
Residents complain that landowners in farmland on the city’s outskirts have taken advantage of the chaos and near lawlessness that followed the former president’s overthrow and illegally sold their land to developers who built shoddy apartment blocks.
Similar violations have taken place across much of the country. Pointing to the magnitude of the problem, Housing Minister Tareq Wafeeq told reporters that a total of 318,000 illegal constructions went up in 23 of Egypt’s 27 provinces between 2009 and 2012.
Alexandria’s security chief, police Maj-Gen Abdel-Mawgood Lutfi, said the building was constructed five years ago and had 24 apartments.
That the building collapsed early in the day meant that most tenants were home. Police evacuated residents of two adjacent buildings out of concern that the collapse may have caused structural damage to them.
The collapse could stoke criticism of President Mohammed Morsi administration. Critics accuse the government of failing to carry out reforms and overhaul the nation’s deteriorating public services.
Two months ago, 50 children died when a train rammed into their school bus in southern Egypt. That tragedy also sparked a storm of criticism of Morsi, who took office in June.
The latest train wreck led to protests Tuesday at railway stations in Cairo, Alexandria and a third city in the Nile Delta. The demonstrators were protesting what they said was official negligence in maintaining and upgrading the country’s aging rail network.
Morsi’s government has blamed Tuesday’s train accident on what officials say is nearly 30 years of corruption and misrule under Mubarak. Transport Minister Hatem Abdel-Lateef told another news conference that overhauling the country’s railways would cost 15 billion Egyptian pounds ($2.3 billion), a hefty sum for nation reeling from two years of political and economic turmoil.
The news conferences by the two Cabinet ministers appeared to be an effort by Morsi’s government to take the initiative in the face of scathing criticism from the independent media and opposition parties.
Late Wednesday, Morsi’s administration sought to defuse the mounting criticism, declaring its solidarity with the victims of the train wreck and the building collapse. Spokesman Yasser Ali said the presidency offered its condolences to the victims’ families and pledged to ensure that they and the survivors received the best available care.
Morsi, the nation’s first democratically elected president, has struggled since taking office in June to address a host of major problems that include an ailing economy, tenuous security, a slumping tourism industry and seemingly endless political turmoil.