Egypt Rock Slide Toll Rises to 31, others Buried

Local residents look out over the scene, the day after a rock slide from the towering Muqattam cliffs fell onto the sprawling Manshiyet Nasr slum on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008. At least 31 were killed and countless more are believed still buried in the rubble. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
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CAIRO, Egypt - Egyptian police on Sunday moved shanty town residents from the site of a rock slide that killed at least 31 and left countless more buried, after concerns that more rocks could tumble from the unstable cliffs overhead.

Journalists also were forced to leave the area by police. Heavy machinery had yet to tackle the massive slabs of rock, some the size of apartment buildings, that split away from the Muqattam cliffs early Saturday, crushing a shanty town below.

A security official said 31 bodies had been pulled from the rubble and 46 people had been treated at area hospitals, but that many other people remained buried. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The government said it hopes to evacuate the entire area because of fears that more of the limestone cliffs that tower above the Manshiyet Nasr slum might tumble down.

It was not clear why officials had not immediately evacuated remaining residents after the initial rock slide early Saturday. But opposition and independent papers were sharply critical Sunday about the government's slow handling of the relief operation.

As they moved residents from the scene Sunday, police occasionally jostled with journalists at the scene, pushing a few and ordering them from the scene.

The densely populated shanty town sits among unstable cliffs, bordered by a railroad track that has made it difficult to get heavy recovery machinery into the area. More than 24 hours after the incident, rescue operations were still being carried out largely by hand and by residents.

Lines of people carted away belongings recovered from the rubble.

The government said it had provided tents for residents, but few took advantage of them, preferring to sleep in the open or with neighbors.

"I can't sleep in a tent, I have a teenage daughter and I can't let her sleep among men," said one woman, Umm Shaymaa. All around the edges of the area, women dressed in traditional black sat wailing, calling out the names of lost family members.

Mahmoud Samir, a construction worker who grew up in the area, said police had clashed with angry residents overnight and early Sunday. He said many in the neighborhood had long expected something like the rock slide to happen because of visible cracks in the cliffs.

"We are afraid to sleep inside, but what can we do if we have no alternative?" he asked.

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.

Like other residents, Mahmoud said he had been told that new apartments in a safer area had long been ready for the residents. But he said he thought corruption and incompetence by local officials had prevented any relocation.