Amman, Jordan – At the doors of Amman’s Luzmila Hospital, the 70-year-old Umm Emad carefully watches the ambulances returning from the collapse of a residential building in the city.
She is looking for her son, his wife, and their three children. So far, she has not found any of them.
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“Were they saved or not” is the question she asks every security guard and paramedic.
“From the moment I heard about the collapse of the building my son Emad and his family lived in, my strength collapsed, my feet cannot hold me any more, as if the building collapsed on my back,” Umm Emad, surrounded by relatives trying to console her, told Al Jazeera.
The death toll from Tuesday’s building collapse in Amman’s Jabal al-Weibdeh district has now risen to 10. On Wednesday, an infant was pulled out alive from the rubble, giving hope that more people can be found breathing. But rescue teams are not sure how many people are still missing.
Inside the hospital, survivors are being treated.
Ahmed Ramadan, who lived in the building with his family, was standing outside when it collapsed.
“I ran in to save my wife and children, but the building was destroyed,” Ramadan told Al Jazeera. “My son was able to pull himself out of the rubble … I tried to pull my wife out but was not able to because she was stuck under the rubble. The rescue team were able to get everyone out, but my wife is still in the hospital receiving care as she has several broken limbs.”
Thirty-year-old Reem Issa and her children, on the other hand, were preparing to be released after being given the all clear by medical staff.
Issa and her family lost their home in the disaster but were lucky to have survived, having fallen from the building’s top floor as it collapsed.
“My three sons and I were back from school and I was preparing their lunch,” Issa recounted. “Suddenly what seemed like an earthquake shook the building. I heard the screams of my children but could not reach them, and when the building collapsed, I fainted and did not wake up until I was in the hospital.”
“I am leaving for my family house in the hospital outfit, without anything to carry or clothes for my children. Unfortunately, we lost everything due to the collapse,” she said.
Ramadan held the owner of the building accountable for the collapse.
“The building was old, and in the past few days the owner did expansion work downstairs, he removed walls and columns,” Ramadan claimed. “The walls and floor of my apartment cracked … I told the owner of the danger to the building and the residents, but he kept working until the building collapsed on the residents and the workers downstairs.”
Three people have been detained by authorities following the collapse, including the owner of the building, the maintenance contractor and the maintenance technician.
Civil defence forces are using heavy vehicles, specialised equipment, police dogs and drones to look for survivors and remove the remaining rubble.
However, the narrow roads and natural slope of the area are making it difficult for more vehicles to enter to help with the search.
The head of the Jordanian Engineers Syndicate’s civil engineering department, Bashar al-Tarawnah, said the reason behind the collapse was the work that had been conducted on the foundations of the building, including “the removal of walls and demolishing columns holding up the building”.
He added that the building was almost 50 years old and often work and maintenance were done without official approval and expert supervision.
Al-Tarawnah added that the evacuation of nearby buildings was necessary “to ease search operations and the removal of rubble”, but did not expect any of the other buildings to collapse “as they are not connected closely together”.
The Jordanian Engineers Syndicate has directed a letter to Amman’s local government, warning of the existence of “hot spots in Amman and a number of other municipalities, that include damaged and old buildings and residential units that could collapse”, and proposing a community service to “allow the Disaster and Crisis Risk Management Committee to determine the buildings [at risk of collapse] with the help of engineers and scanning teams”.