CAIRO, Egypt — Massive boulders crashed down on a shantytown on the outskirts of Cairo on Saturday, killing at least 24 people and burying many more under tons of rubble, Egyptian authorities said.
Frantic residents in the sprawling Manshiyet Nasr slum were digging by hand and trying to lift huge rocks to reach any survivors, shouting out the names of relatives and family members trapped below. Haidar Baghdadi, the parliamentarian for the region, told Al-Jazeera television that buried residents were calling for help from under the rubble using their cell phones.
At least eight boulders, some the size of small houses, peeled away from the towering Muqattam cliffs and buried about 50 homes in the slum, one of many densely populated shantytowns ringing the city of 17 million. Manshiyet Nasr is home to 1.2 million people, according to Baghdadi.
A security official said 35 people were injured and many more may be buried under hundreds of tons of rock that fell.
“My whole family is underneath the rock,” sobbed Anwar Ragab as he watched a body being pulled from under the rubble. “I don’t know what to do, I can’t do anything — I just want my children back,” he said.
Six-year-old Mustafa Ibrahim was pulled from the rubble and later regained consciousness in a hospital, shouting, “Where is my mother. Where is my father?” But his parents and three brothers had all perished.
By nightfall, no heavy equipment was being used to clear debris. A single bulldozer sat stranded because it couldn’t move through the slum’s narrow streets and authorities planned to demolish some buildings to clear the way.
Workers brought in flood lights, indicating the rescue effort would continue into the night.
The collapse occurred in the early morning when most residents were sleeping, having awoken earlier to eat ahead of the daytime fast for Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.
The area was covered by a thick layer of dust and the scene was chaotic as men and women screamed in grief and blamed the government for a slow rescue operation.
After sundown, residents broke their daily fast amid the ruins. Most rescue efforts appeared to stop until cries for help from under the rubble prompted some to start digging again.
Slums such as Manshiyet Nasr at the base of the Muqattam cliffs are filled with migrants from the countryside looking for work in Cairo, which suffers from a severe housing shortage. Buildings on top of the cliffs and below are crudely built and lack basic services, contributing to the instability of the vast plateau.
“The reason the rocks keep falling is because there is no sewage system and their wastewater is eating away at the mountain,” Hani Rifaat, a local journalist who has been following the issue, said from the site of the disaster.
Sewage could be seen pouring down from residential areas on top of the plateau, prompting fears of another collapse.
Baghdadi said the area was known to be dangerous, but the government had resettled only a fraction of the residents to safer government housing.