Cairo rockslide toll reaches 30 as full tragedy unfolds

September 7th, 2008 - 7:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Cairo, Sep 7 (DPA) The number of people confirmed dead in Saturday’s rockslide in Cairo reached 30 by Sunday, as frantic efforts to rescue survivors and recover the bodies continued.With hundreds of people suspected to be still under the rubble, the full extent of the tragedy was yet to become clear.

Hundreds of tons of limestone rock came crashing down Saturday morning upon the Doweiqa neighbourhood of a massive shanty town known as Manshiet Nasser, on the edge of the Egyptian capital. Forty-seven survivors are being treated for their injuries.

“I cannot believe my eyes,” said 58-year-old Nabaweiya Ahmad, who came from her village in upper Egypt to spend a few days of the holy month of Ramadan with her son and his family, to find them buried under their house.

“Now I’m waiting for their bodies to come out, ” Ahmad said as she wept.

“I was sleeping when I felt something like an earthquake,” said Aleya Taha, lying in Azhar university hospital. “I then found myself under debris. I fainted and found myself lying in the hospital.”

According to medical sources, most of the injured are women and children.

Eight rocks, weighing between 100 tons and 500 tons, broke away from the cliff face and crashed down on some 35 houses that lie at the foot of the Moqattam hill in Manshiet Nasser.

An unknown number of people, possibly in the hundreds, are still trapped under the debris.

Army and firefighting crews with heavy-lifting equipment arrived at the scene Saturday, although the steep topography of the area and narrow streets have hampered efforts to remove the debris.

As rescue efforts continued, the deputy governor for the Eastern Cairo area, Mokhtar el-Hamalawi, said that a camp with 100 tents has been set up at the el-Fostat area for people that have lost their homes.

Residents poured out their rage at Cairo governor Abdel Azim Wazir and other officials who visited the scene.

“We have been complaining for a long time of the constant rockslides, warning that it will cause a tragedy here,” Ali Mansour said. “Our calls have always fallen on deaf ears. They (officials) only came after people are dead,” Mansour said.

Governor Wazir, however, told reporters that several evacuation orders had been issued more than a year ago but the residents refused to leave the area.

Residents say they are very poor and cannot afford to live elsewhere.

Some 1.3 million people live in the Moqattam area, mostly in extreme poverty. Infrastructure and services are minimal, as housing developed informally as rural populations moved to the city over several decades.

In 1994, a similar accident occurred in the Manshiet Nasser area when falling rock killed 30 people.

In 2007 the Egyptian government began a programme to upgrade and develop the ring of shanty towns around Cairo in which millions of Egyptians live.

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