Rock slide caused by sewage water crushes Egyptian slum, killing 24
U.S. Water News Online
CAIRO, Egypt — Massive boulders crashed down on an impoverished shantytown recently on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital, killing at least 24 people, authorities said. Frantic residents dug by hand to try to reach any survivors.
At least eight boulders, some the size of small houses, peeled away from the towering Muqattam cliffs outside Cairo and buried some 50 homes in the sprawling Manshiyet Nasr slum, one of the shantytowns ringing Africa's most populous city.
It was the latest disaster to stir public anger at a government accused by many of neglect. A lawmaker representing the area said that despite warnings that the cliff face could collapse, the government failed to deliver on promises to relocate residents.
The collapse occurred in the early morning, when most residents were still sleeping after waking earlier to eat ahead of the daytime fast of Islam's holy month of Ramadan.
A security official said 35 people were injured and many people are believed to be buried under the hundreds of tons of rock that fell. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
“My whole family is underneath the rock,” sobbed Anwar Ragab by phone to The Associated Press as he watched a body being pulled from under the rock. “I don't know what to do, I can't do anything — I just want my children back.”
One young boy pulled from the rubble, 6-year-old Mustafa Ibrahim, regained consciousness in a hospital, shouting, “Where is my mother, where is my father?” His parents and three brothers perished.
The pulverized remains of the town were covered by a thick layer of dust and the scene was chaotic as men and women screamed in grief and blamed the government for a slow rescue operation. People dug at the debris, calling out the names of relatives and family members trapped below.
Leila Mohammed Tawfeeq, 13, who lay in a hospital bed with a broken arm and face full of bruises, recalled being jolted awake by a sound like an earthquake. She cried out for her older brother, Ahmad, whom she remembers seeing nearby putting on his sandals.
“That was the last thing I saw,” she said. Her brother is among the missing.
Slums like Manshiyet Nasr at the base of the cliffs are built by migrants from the countryside looking for work in Cairo, an overcrowded city of 17 million people that suffers from a severe housing shortage. Buildings on top of the cliffs and below are crudely built and lack basic services, contributing to the instability of the vast plateau.
“The reason the rocks keep falling is because there is no sewage system and their wastewater is eating away at the mountain,” Hani Rifaat, a local journalist who has been following the issue, told AP from the site of the disaster.
Sewage could be seen pouring down from residential areas on top of the plateau, prompting fears of another collapse.
Resident Mohammed Hussein said contractors working to shore up the cliffs couldn't complete their work because the government hadn't resettled the community below.
A string of other recent disasters in Egypt have pointed to government neglect and incompetence, including the burning down of parliament in August, the destruction of another Cairo slum by fire in 2007, and a ferry disaster that claimed 1,000 lives in 2006.
Helmeted rescue workers on the scene appeared to do little, and as night fell no heavy equipment had been used to clear debris. A single bulldozer sat stranded because it couldn't move through the slum's narrow streets. Authorities planned to demolish some buildings to clear the way.
In their frustration, police and residents exchanged angry words.
After sundown, residents broke their fast for Ramadan amid the ruins. Most rescue efforts appeared to stop until cries for help from under the rubble prompted some to start digging again.
The government said survivors would be transferred to new housing for the night and given all necessary aid.
“We are following the case step by step and providing the care and comfort for the residents,” Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said in the statement. “We would like to remind people the danger of building informal housing in dangerous areas.”
Haidar Baghdadi, the parliamentarian for the region, told Al-Jazeera news channel that buried residents were calling for help from under the rubble using cell phones.
Speaking later to the AP, the representative said the area was known to be dangerous, but the government had resettled only small numbers of the 100,000 people living in the immediate area to safer government housing.
“No warning works. As long as you can't provide new housing and an alternative no one moves,” he said.
Rock slides periodically take place on the edges of the brittle limestone Muqattam hills. In 2002, 27 people were killed in another rock slide in the same area, Baghdadi said.
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