Residents of the poor shanty town of Duwayqa were victims of a huge rockslide that saw boulders crashing down on their homes early Saturday. At least 31 people are confirmed dead and hundreds are still missing, stuck under the rubble. Aya Batrawy has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.
Residents of Duwayqa, a shanty suburb in Cairo, were buried alive Saturday when huge boulders and rocks came crashing down from the mountain their homes were on.
Egyptian authorities said that after 24 hours of searching, 31 bodies were pulled out of the rubble and 46 people were being treated for injuries. The number of those missing is uncertain, but residents of the area said there could be hundreds still stranded below. With every hour that passes their chance at life dims.
One emergency crew worker explains the struggle to get to people buried underneath the massive boulders of rocks.
He said the rocks are the sizes of large homes and buildings. He said the crews working cannot get to the homes under the rocks. Those who are alive are alive from God's grace, the rest are all deceased, he said.
At the nearby hospital, a mother sits waiting to hear news about three of her children. She does not know that her 20-year-old son, her 11-year-old daughter and infant have been killed. She sits in the hospital bed, recovering from head surgery and a slew of other injuries. She describes the moments when the massive boulders came crashing down.
She says she saw the mountain cracking in width and height and leaning towards her. People started running in every direction. She says she does not know what happened to her children. Five children and she does not know anything about them, except that two are here in the hospital undergoing surgery. She says if she could get up and walk, she would search for the other three children. I want to see my children, they are all I have in this world after God and I give thanks and praise to God, she says.
It is very difficult to get machinery and equipment to the site because the slum was built without government authorization at a cheaper cost so the roads and alleys are not wide enough to fit even the smallest cars.
Local residents are struggling to carry by hand a heavy generator that will hopefully provide light, since electricity is cut.
Residents of Duwaqya explained that because the homes were built so close to one another, it is difficult to estimate how many people are still missing. One resident said each building housed at least 12 rooms and each room housed a family of five to six people.
Until sunset people were calling from their mobile phones from underneath the rocks, asking to be saved.
As the sound of prayer called throughout the night during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, residents began asking how the government could let this happen.
One man, whose children were killed by the rockslide, said the government was well aware that the mountain was collapsing.
He said that the residents many times complained at the local government office that the mountain was falling.
There was once a woman who was injured when a smaller piece of the mountain fell on her, he said. He said, we cannot get our right and that he just want to live like anyone else. "Imagine", he said, "I went to work and came back to find everything is gone - my home, my kids, my life."
According to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, the government is working hard to get people out of these unauthorized towns.
He said that the government knows there are many shanty towns and most of the homes built there are built without authorization. Mr. Nazif said there are steps in place to take care of the towns and that the government is trying to prohibit development of any more because some are in great danger.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian military was sent in to help with relief efforts, but by nightfall Saturday, not a single bulldozer had reached the site.
Rockslides are common in the area. A similar disaster killed 30 people in 1993.