Cairo Begins Relief After Quake
Citizens blame stampedes and shoddy enforcement of building codes for high death toll
AMID toppled minarets and damaged buildings, still shaken Cairenes were recovering from the worst earthquake ever recorded in Egypt. With bodies still being pulled from the rubble, some residents were beginning to criticize authorities for their failure to enforce safe building codes.
Authorities said at least 370 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured in the quake, which struck the afternoon of Oct. 12, but Red Cross officials in Geneva said its Egyptian affiliate reported at least 1,000 dead or missing and 10,000 injured.
Many of the dead were schoolchildren, crushed as they fled their swaying classrooms. Maj. Gen. Rida Abdel-Aziz, an assistant interior minister, said many of the casualties occurred as terrified residents stampeded.
The death toll was expected to rise as rescue workers continued to pull bodies from the rubble of at least six collapsed schools and scores of apartment buildings. Hospitals were overrun with people injured by falling buildings and in the panic which followed the afternoon temblor.
Preliminary seismological readings put the magnitude of the tremor at between 5.5 and 5.9 on the Richter scale. Monitors placed the epicenter of the quake 20 miles southwest of Cairo.
Officials in charge of the rescue operation said the Egyptian capital, home to more than 12 million people, was the most affected part of the country. At least 160 buildings were reported seriously damaged or destroyed, including a 14-story apartment building.
"The large number of casualties was due to the fact that there are many rickety old buildings as well as shoddily constructed newer ones," Dr. Joseph Mikhail, director of Egypt's National Research Institute for Astronomy and Geophysics, told the Associated Press.
At Cairo's largest public hospital, staff were treating more than 500 people, many of them seriously injured. Riot police attempted to restore order as the wounded and their relatives crammed into the hospital's corridors.
Tension at many of the worst-hit areas grew as relatives lost hope of finding loved ones alive. In the poor district of Manshayet Nasser, parents of children killed in the collapse of a school forced their way into a hospital where bodies were being kept.
While large parts of the city were left untouched, poorer districts appeared the worst hit. Badly constructed apartment buildings collapsed into narrow streets. Many families were afraid of returning to their homes as night fell.
At least three truckloads of riot police were moved to the scene of the largest building reported to have collapsed. The 14-story apartment building was reduced to the height of only two floors when it crashed to the earth moments after the quake.
But other multistoried buildings immediately adjacent to the collapsed structure appeared untouched. Residents in the area blamed faulty construction for its destruction.
Hamdi Ahmed, a 50-year-old neighborhood businessman, said the building had a long history of legal disputes between apartment owners and the builder. "The foundations weren't good," he said, adding that the builder had illegally added four additional stories to what was to have been only a 10-story building. Other reports said the building suffered a tilt of several degrees shortly after construction was completed more than a decade ago.
Said one bystander as this reporter spoke with police officials, "Why do you ask these people? Why don't you speak to the engineers who took the bribes?"
Engineer Sherif Ayad, also on the scene, said: "There are many contractors who want to make their building at the least cost to get very high profits. The foundations, the specifications were not right."
With a crane overhead, some men worked with sledgehammers while others tossed twisted pieces of metal and crushed household furnishings to the ground below.
Amid the clouds of dust and piles of debris, one well-dressed man watched silently. Middle-aged and apparently in shock, he had been there throughout the night. His wife's mother and father were inside, "on the seventh floor," he said.
FIVE people were recovered alive from the building, but all had been on the uppermost floor at the time of the collapse.
The quake hit shortly after three in the afternoon local time, just as many schools were ending their day and workers were returning home.
Millions of people poured into the streets fearing for their lives as the 20-second tremor sent buildings swaying wildly. But because of the sheer density of the city, there were few places for people to go. The streets themselves, narrow and filled with parked cars, afforded little reassurance for families fearful of re-entering their multistory apartment buildings.
Modern buildings, including the five-star hotels which line the Nile in downtown Cairo, appeared unscathed. People inside the luxury hotels, however, reported terrifying scenes of rushing crowds and few unlocked doors leading outside.