Survivors of Jordan's deadly building collapse demand justice

Residents of Amman gather to call for accountability after 14 people were killed last week

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Survivors and relatives of 14 people killed in a building collapse in Jordan's capital Amman gathered to demand justice on Tuesday near the site of the now-demolished building.

The collapse of the four-storey building in the middle-class district of Al Weibdeh on September 13 was one of the deadliest in recent decades.

“The public prosecutor asked me whether I want compensation. No money can reimburse me,” said Hamed Olayan, a resident of the building.

Among the corpses pulled out from the rubble were his two daughters, 16-year-old Suhaila and 11-year-old Hanaa, and his 40-year-old wife, Abeer. His teenage son was not at home when the collapse occurred.

Mr Olayan, who had left his second-floor apartment to go to an appointment an hour before the building collapsed in the afternoon, said he could not believe what has happened to his family.

“I told him I only want whoever is responsible to be served justice,” said Mr Olayan, a retired printing press worker.

The collapse brought into focus Jordan's lack of building inspections and lax enforcement of construction codes, particularly when expanding existing structures. Jordan is regarded as a middle-income country, but a surge of expatriate cash inflow in the 1990s sparked a building boom.

Authorities have detained the main owner of the 5-year-old building, which had undergone several expansions. Survivors and neighbours said the owner was expanding a ground-floor apartment when the building came down.

Government engineers said the collapse was consistent with a retaining wall having been removed at ground level.

The building's owner, a contractor and a worker were charged with 14 counts of "causing death". State TV said the public prosecutor had referred the case to a court for all three men to face trial.

People at site of the collapsed building in Amman sift through the belongings of their relatives after demolition crews levelled what remained of the structure. Khaled Yacoub Oweis / The National

Personal trainer Ahmad Ramadan said he was washing his car in front of the building when he saw it collapse.

“I ran to the building then stopped and said to myself, this cannot be happening,” he said.

His wife emerged unscathed on her own from the rubble.

Mr Ramadan was not optimistic that the incident would have any lasting effect at national level.

“We lack the follow-up we see in the West, where the whole system is geared towards provide justice and solve shortcomings,” he said.

At a nearby roundabout hung two large black posters by Jordanian cartoonist Osama Hajjaj. One of them depicted the building as a lit candle with the inscription: “May God have mercy on them.”

Two posters by Jordanian cartoonist Osama Hajjaj stand near the site of the collapsed building. Khaled Yacoub Oweis / The National

The crowd walked to the site of the building, levelled by demolition crews over the past two days. The four floors, which had fallen like a house of cards, were gone.

The crew left belongings they had found on the grounds of an adjacent building.

Ziad Al Hamaydeh, a retired soldier, sifted through the pile and picked up a pair of jeans, which he suspects belonged to his daughter, who was killed alongside her own 6-month-old daughter. They lived on the ground floor, next to the apartment where the construction work that allegedly caused the collapse was taking place.

“They were among the last to be pulled out,” he says. “The authorities say justice will be done. Let us see.”

Updated: September 21, 2022, 10:23 AM