Alexandria building collapse kills six as dangerous winter storms loom

Winter storms or "Nawas" batter the coastal city and building collapses are not uncommon

Three people died in Egypt on Wednesday night when a dilapidated apartment building collapsed in the centre of Alexandria.

Search efforts are ongoing for five people who neighbours said were inside the property when it fell. According to sources, two children were pulled from the rubble. Among the six killed were three women and three men.

Authorities have evacuated the building next to the one that collapsed after cracks appeared, according to residents.

The four-floor building in Moharam Bek neighbourhood was built in 1946 and had long needed renovation – three separate restoration requests have been filed since 2000 but work was never carried out.

Police forces cordoned off the area, as rescue workers used bulldozers to clear away debris, which has been a slow process because of the narrow streets in the neighbourhood.

At the scene, Alexandria’s governor, Maj Gen Mohammed El Sherif, said that initial reports suggested that two families of nine people were in the building at the time of the collapse.

On Wednesday night, Maj Gen Al Sherif told local TV that Prime Minister Dr Mostafa Madbouly had requested an inventory of homes that are at risk of collapse and that the government is ready to provide shelters for those affected.

The governor said that 2,400 homes in Alexandria are more than 75 years old.

Building collapses are not uncommon in Egypt, where poor construction practices are widespread. Extra floors are often added without government permits, pushing buildings beyond safe limits. Elsewhere, developers seeking bigger profits will build beyond the approved plans without worrying about penalties.

The government recently launched a crackdown on illegally built housing across the country, jailing offenders and in many cases demolishing the structures.

Officials say that the law introduced last year is part of a crackdown on illegal buildings that breach safety standards, hinder traffic and development, and encroach on arable land.

It is part of a drive by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi to upgrade infrastructure and housing and deal with decades of haphazard construction that accelerated after a 2011 uprising.

Residents can pay fees between 50 Egyptian pounds ($3.19) and 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($127.64) per square metre to regularise their properties and avoid demolition. Tens of thousands of people have paid the fees.

But for some residents, the demolition threat is another blow after years of economic austerity, rising prices and, most recently, the fallout from the coronavirus.

The president said that not enough people were coming forward to regularise their properties, and in televised remarks threatened to send the army into villages to demolish illegal houses if violations did not stop.

After Wednesday night's building collapse, Maj Gen El Sharif said that the winter storms, known by the city's inhabitants as "Al Nawa", scheduled to hit Alexandria's coast next week could bring more destruction.

Similar to that of hurricanes, these winter storms or "Nawas" are named. Nawa Qasim is scheduled to arrive in the first week of December and may last for five days, bringing torrential rains and strong south-westerly winds to batter Alexandria, causing a significant rise in waves and rough seas off the coastal city.

- Additional reporting by agencies