Beirut building collapse kills dozens

Rescue efforts ordered to stop after recovery of 27 bodies from building in Lebanese capital.

Lebanon Beirut Fassouh

At least 27 people have died after an old, six-storey building in the Lebanese capital collapsed, with officials saying several more people are still trapped under the rubble.

A dozen people were also injured, none of them seriously, in Sunday’s incident in the Ashrafieh neighbourhood.

“We have recovered 27 bodies from the site and rescue efforts have stopped under orders from the interior ministry,” Red Cross head of operations Georges Kettaneh told AFP.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the site, said building collapses were a rare occurrence in Lebanon, but some accounts suggested that cracks in the building’s foundations were worsened by recent heavy rains and construction work in the area.

“People are already criticising officials for negligence and demanding why local authorities had not inspected the buildings in order to have avoided this and other future tragedies,” she said.

General Raymond Khattar, Lebanon’s civil defence chief, said the bodies recovered by rescuers who worked through Sunday night and Monday included those of seven Lebanese, six Sudanese, two Filipinos and two Egyptians.

Among the dead was a 15-year-old Lebanese girl, while those hurt included her grandmother as well as a 73-year-old Lebanese man, at least two Sudanese, an Egyptian and a Filipina.

The building housed some 50 people, many of them labourers from Sudan and Egypt, Khattar said.

He said at least eight people were known to have escaped as the building came down.

A Syrian labourer employed at a building site nearby told AFP that debris started falling from the building in early evening before the entire structure came crashing down.

“We saw small pieces of stone falling down but no one paid any attention at the start,” he said. “Then large chunks of stone started falling and people began screaming for everyone to get out. Within minutes, the building was on the floor.”

Owner detained

One resident who escaped with her mother said the building was extremely rundown and the owner had warned tenants not to remain there shortly before it disintegrated.

“It was like an earthquake,” another witness told the local MTV channel. Several anxious relatives of the victims remained at the site on Monday hoping for news of their loved ones.

Many wept and others prayed as rescuers painstakingly sifted through the rubble, aided by bulldozers.

“Where are all the political leaders?” shouted one woman. “They only show up when they want our vote.”

Bilal Hamad, the head of Beirut municipality, urged all residents to alert authorities should they suspect any danger in their neighbourhoods and said a team of experts would soon begin to inspect buildings across the capital, many of which are built illegally or have had storeys added without proper permits.

“We will immediately deal with concerns over old buildings, some of which are ticking time bombs,” Hamad announced.

“I ask all residents, whether tenants or owners, to inform the municipality if they have any doubts about the safety of their building.”

Marwan Charbel, the interior minister, who visited the site on Sunday night along with President Michel Sleiman, said the owner of the building had been detained for questioning and an investigation was under way.

The Lebanese government announced it would grant a compensation of $20,000 to the family of each victim as well as families who had been living in the collapsed building.