At least 17 people were killed and several were feared trapped after an eight-story building collapsed in the western Cairo suburb of Matariya, Egyptian police officials have said.

The officials said that eight residents of the building were also injured when the building fell in early on Tuesday.

Rescue teams and neighbours were searching for survivors trapped under the rubble and several surrounding buildings have been evacuated.

Mamdouh Abdel-Qader, the head of Cairo Civil Defence, said rescuers recovered 17 bodies from the collapse. The official MENA news agency said workers pulled eight residents out of the rubble alive. Neighbours said those still buried made desperate mobile phone calls, begging for help.

"A man with his daughter was calling me saying they are trapped in darkness," said a dust-covered Ali Abdel-Fattah Ali, a government employee who moonlights as a mechanic in a nearby car repair shop. "I tried to call back but there was no answer. I don't know what happened. His phone is still ringing."

Cause of collapse

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorised to speak on the record, said the collapse was caused by unauthorised construction of several extra stories on the old building.

The son of the building's owner jumped off a balcony to escape the collapse, neighbours said. It was unclear who owned the building now as the owner had died six months ago.

Abdel-Khaleq Abdel-Hadi, a resident who was not in the building at the time of the collapse, accused local authorities of accepting bribes to hold off the execution of the court order.

"This is extreme act of negligence by our government ... where souls of people are worth nothing,'' said Abdel-Hadi, whose family fled the building once they felt it shaking.

Building collapses are relatively common in Egypt, where shoddy construction is widespread in shantytowns, poor city neighbourhoods and rural areas.

With a housing shortage and lax government oversight, developers seeking bigger profits frequently build without authorisation or permits.

Source: Agencies