(AFP) – Sep 8, 2008
CAIRO (AFP) — More than 50 people were killed in a massive rockslide which flattened homes in a Cairo shantytown, a security official said Monday, with yet more bodies pulled from the rubble two days after the tragedy.
Many other bodies are feared entombed in the debris after giant boulders crushed dozens of homes in the shantytown of Manshiyet Nasser on Saturday, burying whole families.
As four more corpses were pulled out of the rubble, rising as high as 15 metres (yards), a security official told AFP that the casualty toll stood at 51 dead and 57 injured.
Egypt's mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa -- the leader of the nation's Sunni Muslim faithful -- said all those who died in the Ramadan tragedy were "martyrs," Al-Masri Al-Youm newspaper reported.
Television reports suggested as many as 500 people could be missing as rescuers continued in a desperate race to find survivors of the tragedy, which struck as most people were sleeping, it being the first week of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Rescue efforts -- expected to last several days -- are proceeding slowly as authorities break the giant rocks into pieces small enough to be hauled away.
The army and emergency services are also trying to create narrow passageways between the massive rocks to allow them access to the remains below, wary of setting off new rockslides.
Most of the brick-built dwellings in the district have two floors and were put up without adhering to planning regulations and without construction permits.
The army tried to get residents to move into an improvised camp made up of 60 tents in a nearby public park, although some survivors refused to go, insisting instead on being given proper new homes.
Survivor Abdallah Salem, 60, whose home was unscathed by the landslide, said he feared further rocks tumbling down.
"We're afraid to sleep in our homes for fear that our fate might be the same as that of our neighbours," Salem told Al-Badil newspaper.
The arid Moqattam hill is broken up by chalky rock slopes, and a number of unofficial housing areas are huddled at its base, along the length of a main road into the city.
Several rockslides have occurred in the area previously, the most deadly of which killed 70 people in the adjacent Zabaleen area in 1993.
"The government knew that people could die and, in spite of that, it didn't take any action," resident Waheed Rabie told the state-owned Egyptian Gazette newspaper.
Residents on Sunday threw rocks at security forces, denouncing what they said was a slow official reaction to the catastrophe.
Egypt has a poor track record of building safety often blamed on the flouting of construction regulations, particularly involving adding extra floors without permission.
In December, 35 people died when a 12-storey apartment block in the northern city of Alexandria collapsed as restoration work was under way on the first floor.
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