At least 26 people were killed when an old six-storey building in the Lebanese capital collapsed, officials said on Monday, with more people still trapped under the rubble.
“Until now, 26 bodies have been recovered and we believe there are more buried under the building that collapsed Sunday evening,” Red Cross official Georges Kettaneh told AFP.
A dozen people were also injured, none of them seriously.
Civil defence chief General Raymond Khattar told AFP the bodies recovered by rescuers who worked through Sunday night and Monday included those of seven Lebanese, six Sudanese, two Filipinos and two Egyptians.
Among the dead was a 15-year-old Lebanese girl, and those hurt included her grandmother as well as a 73-year-old Lebanese man, at least two Sudanese, an Egyptian and a Filipina.
The building housed some 50 people, many of them labourers from Sudan and Egypt, Khattar said, adding that at least eight people were known to have escaped as the building came down.
A Syrian labourer at a nearby building site said debris started falling from the building in the early evening before the entire block came crashing down.
“We saw small pieces of stone falling down but no one paid any attention at the start,” he told AFP. “Then large chunks of stone started falling and people began screaming for everyone to get out.
“Within minutes, the building was on the floor.”
One resident who escaped with her mother said the building was extremely run-down and the owner had warned tenants not to remain there shortly before it disintegrated.
“It was like an earthquake,” another witness told the local MTV channel.
Several anxious relatives remained at the site on Monday hoping for news of their loved ones. Many wept and others prayed as rescuers painstakingly sifted through the rubble, aided by bulldozers.
“Where are all the political leaders?” shouted one woman. “They only show up when they want our vote.”
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who visited the site on Sunday night with President Michel Sleiman, told reporters the building’s owner had been detained for questioning and a probe was under way.
The government announced it would grant compensation of 30 million Lebanese pounds (20,000 dollars, 15,750 euros) to the family of each victim as well as families who had been living in the collapsed building.
Bilal Hamad, the head of Beirut municipality, urged all residents to alert authorities should they suspect any danger in their neighbourhoods and said a team of experts would soon begin to inspect buildings across the capital, many of which are built illegally or have had storeys added without proper permits.
“We will immediately deal with concerns over old buildings, some of which are ticking time bombs,” Hamad told a news conference.
“I ask all residents, whether tenants or owners, to inform the municipality if they have any doubts about the safety of their building.”
There was speculation that heavy rain may have contributed to Sunday’s disaster, making the building more prone to collapse.