CAIRO, (Reuters) – Twenty people were killed and 23 injured when a massive rockslide hit a crowded Cairo shanty town on Saturday, sending rocks and boulders crashing down on dozens of houses, state news agency MENA said.
Tumbling rocks destroyed many buildings in the Manshiyet Nasser shanty town in eastern Cairo near the Moqattam plateau, its close-packed houses and narrow alleys huddled at the foot of cliffs beside a highway.
MENA said parts of the area were being evacuated because new cracks had been seen in the cliff face.
Dozens of police and rescue workers were sent to the scene, backed up by fire engines, ambulances and sniffer dogs, but locals were enraged at what they saw as an inadequate government response to the disaster.
Hundreds of weeping, yelling residents gathered round the cordoned-off site, cursing local authorities and saying they had relatives and friends trapped beneath the rubble. “You’ve just got your hands in your pockets, you’re not doing anything!” one man yelled at police standing nearby. “If it were the shura council (upper house of parliament), you’d have had the army in by now!” shouted another.
When fire broke out in Egypt’s upper house of parliament in August, killing one person, the military were called out to battle the blaze with helicopters.
“It was horror. The power went out, we heard a loud bang like an earthquake, and I thought this house had collapsed. I went out, I saw the whole mountain had collapsed,” said Hassan Ibrahim Hassan, 80, whose house escaped the destruction.
One six-storey building was reduced to rubble by the landslide, witnesses said.
The shanty town of red brick houses and unpaved narrow alleys is famously overcrowded, with entire poor families sometimes crowded into a single room.
A woman in a white veil screamed “My children, my children! I didn’t get anyone out, I need to see them, even if they’re dead!”
Rescue efforts were moving slowly. MENA said the authorities had sent for heavy lifting equipment, and were evacuating parts of the area because new cracks had appeared in the cliff face.
People were sifting through the rubble to recover their meagre belongings. Visible through the debris were household items; broken plates, satellite dishes, pans, blankets — even dead chickens.
Some 30 riot police had been deployed to the area and were standing on top of the rubble, a Reuters eyewitness said.
Much of the digging was being done by relatives and neighbours, tugging at piles of rocks and debris by hand in their search for survivors or bodies. Rescue workers were using pickaxes to break up large rocks.
Many residents said they had reported a small rockslide to local authorities weeks ago, but accounts differed as to the outcome of the incident.
One resident, who gave her name only as Umm Mohamed, showed a Reuters correspondent damage to her house from the recent rockslide. The walls were severely cracked and leaking, and clouds of dust rose from the walls when struck. “If you had children, would you want them to live here? No one paid any attention to us,” said Umm Mohamed.
A similar incident occurred almost 15 years ago, when a 3,000-tonne chunk of rock broke off the Moqattam plateau, an escarpment on the eastern edge of the Nile valley, and crushed houses in Manshiyet Nasser, burying at least 50 people.