Egypt rock slide toll rises to 31

By: AP
By: AP
Hopes diminished Sunday for finding survivors among hundreds of people believed trapped beneath massive boulders that destroyed an impoverished neighborhood on Cairo

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)

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Hopes diminished Sunday for finding survivors among hundreds of people believed trapped beneath massive boulders that destroyed an impoverished neighborhood on Cairo's outskirts, killing at least 31 people, including whole extended families.

Anger and resentment mounted as authorities failed for a second day to get heavy machinery into the devastated shantytown to try to clear the large slabs that split away from the Muqattam cliffs early Saturday. Survivors among the 100,000 residents of the Dewika slum were also left to spend the night without shelter, despite government promises to provide it.

"The area turned into a mass grave," one bearded man shouted, while a tearful young woman in a black robe clutched a picture of a newlywed couple whose bodies remained trapped below.

Hundreds of anti-riot police in helmets and shields cordoned off the area to prevent journalists and residents from approaching the site. Only young residents who have been involved in the rescue efforts were allowed to get close.

"In America, rescue workers would hurry to save a cat. Here, hundreds of human beings are buried under the rocks and nobody seems to care," said a taxi driver who was helping with the rescue but refused to give his name.

Many residents who spoke to a reporter refused to give their names, saying they felt intimidated and threatened by the security forces in the area.

Rabie Ragab, whose house overlooks the boulders, accused the government of trying to deceive the public. "The minister of housing told the media that no one would sleep in the street. You can see that we all slept in the streets."

Alleys leading up to the demolished houses were packed with women weeping and wailing while calling out names of their loved ones. One young man with a dusty face burst into tears and lay on the ground after losing his whole family.

A security official said 31 bodies had been pulled from the rubble and 46 people had been treated at 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 densely populated shantytown, part of a sprawling slum known as Manshiyet Nasr, is sandwiched between unstable cliffs and an unused 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.

Army personnel and Civil Defense workers managed to cut into the railway track and demolish several houses to clear the way for bulldozers.

Aboul-Ela Amin Mohammed, the head of the earthquake department at the National Research Institute for Astronomy and Geophysics, said the entire plateau is in danger of further collapse.

"It is not the first time or the last time," he told The Associated Press. "The area is full of densely packed informal housing with no central sewer system. ... When the sewage touches the fragile surface of the limestone it changes its consistency into a flour-like paste."

Similar disasters happened in 1994 and 2002.

Despite the obvious danger and residents' pleas to the local council to provide safer housing, little action was taken, said Mustafa Mahmoud Sayyed, a five-year resident of the slum.

Like much of the housing, Sayyed said his one-floor house of bricks with a wood ceiling was built illegally near the cliff edge - made possible by a bribe to the city council's engineer.

Hundreds of new government-provided apartments have been built just a 10-minute walk from the slums, but residents say only 5 percent is occupied because few can afford the necessary bribes.

Haidar Baghdadi, the parliamentary representative of the area, told AP that 388 apartments from this complex would be made available within 48 hours to those who lost their homes. Most residents interviewed Sunday, however, said they had yet to be approached.

Osama Sayyed Abdel Rahman, a shoemaker, said he left his house in the slums 20 years ago to a temporary shelter on the cliff, but instead of staying there for six months only, he remained for 20 years.

"The building is shaking whenever you shut a door and the walls are full of cracks. I live with my four sons with their mother in this cave," he said.

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