Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 18:07 UK

Pain haunts Cairo rockfall slum

Cairo's impoverished Manshiyet Nasser area was devastated on 6 September when a huge rockslide destroyed at least 35 homes.

As rescue efforts entered a fifth day, the BBC's Lina Wardani visited the area and found local residents angry at the slow pace of efforts to retrieve the bodies of the dead.

Olfat's sister, Amal, has been under the Muqattam rocks for five days now.

Rescuers have been searching through the rubble by hand.

"[Amal] went to buy breakfast on Saturday morning and will not come back, the whole mountain fell over her and dozens of our relatives and neighbours," Olfat said.

As rescue efforts in the Duwayqa rockslide disaster enter a fifth day, there are more bodies still under the rubble than have been recovered.

The official death toll has risen to 61, with more than 70 injured and hundreds of others still believed to be beneath the giant boulders.

Because of the narrowness of the lanes and dirt roads in the Manshiyet Nasser shanty town, authorities bulldozed over certain sections of houses and part of a rail track to clear the way for the heavy machinery to reach the site of collapse.

However, until now rescue efforts have relied mainly on the bare hands of local residents, rescue workers and very primitive tools, mainly wooden sticks.

'Inadequate help'

There was anger and grief as the community of the shanty town gathered to mourn their relatives.

I don't care about apartments, I don't want anything, I just want my daughter
Sabah, local resident

Residents hurled stones and insults at authorities for what they regarded as inefficient rescue efforts.

"See, police officers are sitting in the shade while we are trying to search for our relatives using our bare hands," said Mohammed Hamdy, 25, a local resident who lost five members of his family in the accident.

However, security forces have cordoned off the area to pave the way for professional rescue operations, and prevented journalists and residents from entering.

Many civil society organisations have also rushed to help residents with supplies of food, medicine, and blankets.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered the government to provide housing for those left homeless and issue compensation to families of the victims, the state-owned al-Ahram newspaper reported.

"I don't care about apartments, I don't want anything, I just want my daughter," cried Sabah, another resident.

"I want all these soldiers to go and get me my daughter. I know she must be dead by now, I still want her body."

Many other residents want to be moved to safe apartments promised by the government.

However, they do not trust the promises of the officials, while the 2,000 emergency flats made available by the government to house some families remain insufficient.

Some local residents claim they cannot get an apartment without paying bribes, and say that these apartments are only given to relatives of officials.

Melting clay

The section of hill that broke away was estimated at 60m (200ft) wide and 15m long.

Scene of Cairo rockfall
Many residents are poor, their homes built in an unsafe area

The reasons for the rockfall are not clear yet. Local residents believe it was caused by sewage coming from large and luxurious compounds being built on Muqattam.

However, Egyptian geologist Fakhri Labib explained that this was expected because the Muqattam mountain is made of layers of limestone above layers of clay.

"Clay melts from water, any water, not necessarily sewage, it could be simply rain," Mr Labib says.

He also accuses the government of neglecting this "simple fact", which scientists and geologists have warned against many times.

"They don't care about poor people. They are left to build their houses in unsafe areas, and their death is cheap. The government has reached an unprecedented level of corruption. It openly protects the rich, and neglects the poor," added Mr Labib, pointing to a series of events in the last couple of years.

The rockfall disaster was the latest in a string of incidents that have damaged the reputation of the Egyptian government, in office with few changes since 2004.

The fire brigade reacted slowly last month when a blaze broke out in the offices of the upper house of parliament. It burned for more than 12 hours and gutted the historic building.

A prominent member of the ruling party and one of Egypt's wealthiest businessman, Hesham Talaat Mustafa, was charged in August as an accessory to the July killing of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai.

That month a parliamentarian from the ruling party was acquitted of manslaughter over the deaths of more than 1,000 ferry passengers who drowned in the Red Sea in 2006. The verdict has been widely criticised.


In a survey carried out by UN Habitat, a human settlement programme, Manshiyet Nasser is described as "the largest squatter, informal area" in Cairo. Some 350,000 people live in the area on about 850 acres - a density of more than 400 persons per acre, the organisation said.

"The area is suffering from poor living qualities, inadequate services, lack of infrastructure and deteriorated environmental conditions," the survey said.

There are more than 80 shanty towns in and around Cairo, housing millions of people with no legal basis.

This makes it even more difficult for the residents to be properly relocated since most of them don't have official papers, especially those whose houses are buried under the boulders.

"This is murder. The condition of this mountain has been dangerous for the past 15 years, yet no-one moved from officials. And it is the fifth day now since the disaster. Can you see any work?" asks angry street vendor Mohammed Ali.

Egypt rockfall death toll rises
10 Sep 08 |  Middle East
In pictures: Cairo rescue bid
07 Sep 08 |  In Pictures
Deadly rockslide hits Cairo homes
06 Sep 08 |  Middle East
In pictures: Cairo rockslide
06 Sep 08 |  In Pictures

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific