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At least 19 killed in Beirut building collapse

world Updated: Jan 19, 2012 07:59 IST

AFP
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At least 19 people were killed when an old six-storey building in the Lebanese capital collapsed, officials said on Monday, adding that some 16 other victims were feared still trapped under the rubble.

"Until now, 19 bodies have been recovered and about 16 are still buried under the building that collapsed Sunday evening," General Raymond Khattar, head of Lebanon's civil defence, told AFP.

Red Cross official Georges Kettaneh said 12 people were also injured, none of them seriously.

Khattar said the bodies recovered by rescuers who worked all through the night include those of seven Lebanese, six Sudanese, two Filipinos and two Egyptians.

The building housed some 50 people, many of them labourers from Sudan and Egypt, he said, adding at least eight were known to have escaped as the building came down.

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.

"It was like an earthquake," one witness told the local MTV channel.

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

She told local television that she and her mother managed to escape as the building came tumbling down but her father and three brothers remained trapped.

A Syrian labourer employed at a building site nearby said debris started falling from the building in early evening before the entire block came crashing down.

"We saw small pieces of stone falling down but no one paid any attention at the start," he told AFP. "Then large chunks of stone started falling and people began screaming for everyone to get out.

"Within minutes, the building was on the floor."

Several anxious relatives of the victims remained at the site on Monday hoping for news of their loved ones. Many wept and others said prayers 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."

President Michel Sleiman rushed to the site Sunday evening as did Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and other officials.

Charbel told reporters the building's owner was detained for questioning and a probe was underway.

He added it was essential to carry out a survey of similar buildings throughout the country, many of which were built illegally or had several storeys added without proper permits.

There was speculation that heavy rain may have contributed to Sunday's disaster, worsening the condition of the building.

Beirut mayor Bilal Hamad told reporters that a committee would be set up to survey dangerous buildings in the capital.