Iraq building collapse: body pulled from rubble in Baghdad

Rescuers are still trying to reach three people

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Emergency teams on Sunday recovered one body from a collapsed building in Baghdad as rescuers tried to reach three other people still trapped in the rubble.

Thirteen people were rescued shortly after the four-storey building in Karrada, the Iraqi capital's commercial hub, collapsed on Saturday.

The rescue effort continued through the night for four others who were on the ground floor of the building when it caved in.

“We are still working and the progress is slow. We are biting the rubble slowly, but the metal bars are hampering our efforts,” Maj Gen Kadhim Bohan, head of the Civil Defence Directorate, told The National.

The building housed medical laboratories and pharmacies. It was opened in 2019 as a government-run investment project.

There were few people inside at the time of the collapse because of pro-reform street protests in central Baghdad that prompted security forces to close main roads.

Paramilitary troops joined civil defence workers on Saturday night to speed up the rescue operation.

“These are four storeys that are folded up,” Nima Al Koufi, head of the engineering unit of the Popular Mobilisation Forces paramilitary, told The National as bulldozers carried away rubble and twisted rebar.

“We are trying to remove these chunks of cement in order to dig up a hole to reach the ground floor where all four are trapped,” he said.

The body recovered on Sunday was identified as a security guard who was one of two men trapped in the rubble, along with a 26-year-old woman and her 2-year old daughter.

Ahmed Lafta Tahir, who was standing among family members across the street, said he was waiting for word on the fate of his sister and niece.

“We have been here since yesterday, waiting and waiting, and nothing,” Mr Tahir, 40, told The National.

He said his sister was doing a routine lab test before a chemotherapy session scheduled for the next day.

“Where is the government and its agencies, and what happened to the investigation and the owner of the building?” he asked.

Iraqi authorities said they had launched an investigation, but no other details were made public.

Abu Ali Al Sabahi, who had travelled from the province of Kut with his two brothers and three women for regular medical checks, said all of them except one brother managed to get out of the rubble.

"We were lucky to be in the first floor near the stairs, but my brother was trapped on the ground floor,” he said, his red eyes fixed on the collapsed building.

“We just heard a grinding sound and we immediately found ourselves engulfed with dust and dumped under rubble,” he said.

“I was the first to clear my way and the others were immediately rescued.”

Emergency service personnel comfort a man at the scene of a building collapse in Baghdad's Karrada district on Saturday. EPA

There has been an increase in building collapses across Iraq in recent years, blamed on widespread corruption, poor government regulation and cheap materials.

Many construction companies and contractors ignore safety standards and most buildings are found not to be in compliance with construction codes.

To cut costs, some companies submit plans to local authorities that have been drawn to minimum safety standards, but then change them during construction.

The consequences of these shortcuts have been catastrophic.

In August, eight people were killed, including members of a family of pilgrims, when a Shiite shrine outside the city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, partially collapsed.

In 2016, the neglect of proper building safety measures was blamed for most of the deaths from a suicide car bombing in Karrada that killed about 300 people.

Investigators said people were unable to escape from fires caused by the blast, with many perishing in a building that had been constructed without fire escapes and which was clad with highly combustible plastic.

Updated: October 02, 2022, 2:36 PM
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