CAIRO: On an unassuming side street in Sayyeda Zeinab neighborhood stands a six-floor apartment building supported by a number of impromptu wooden crutches, after the ground underneath gave way early morning Sunday Dec. 17.
Ashraf Awad, the owner of the building and a resident, said he heard and felt a loud crack like an earthquake, which sent frightened residents running out into the street with little more than their pajamas and nightgowns.
Residents were forced to evacuate the building and are currently living in different areas throughout Cairo with in-laws or other relatives. Awad says it is an uncomfortable situation as “every house is just big enough for the families.
Some residents believe the sudden sinking was due to three factors, all of which they claim lead back to district negligence.
Residents say the fire hydrant had been leaking for a long time, and most of the water of seeps under the building. Awad says they had been complaining for the past two years about the leakage to the Fire Department which did not take any steps to amend the situation.
He says that the local authorities never properly dealt with years of leakages and explosions in the water pipes in the area, further softening the soil underneath.
“Every time there’s a problem with the pipes, they don’t change them they just patch them up.
Awad said what happened in the end was like a landslide.
Residents have also pointed to the heavy lorries which cross the road adjacent to the building, carrying wood to a local wood storage facility, as another reason why the building’s foundations were sinking.
Awad told The Daily Star Egypt that since the incident, the owner of the storage space has been too embarrassed to show his face, even though he used to pass by them every day.
But district supervisor Tarek Abdel Karim denied that any complaints had been filed about seeping water or anything else.
“If they complained we would have done something, he said.
He also said he did not believe heavy trucks could pass through the street.
He explained: “It’s impossible for a lorry to pass and it’s illegal because the street is very tight.
Mahmoud Awad, another resident, told The Daily Star Egypt that the supervisor was new and that in the nearly 10 years they have been complaining, four or five different supervisors have come and gone.
He also claims that complaints are simply thrown away and are not computerized.
A solution, albeit a costly one, may have been reached, however.
The district’s three committees advised the contractor to rid the building of its top three floors and inject soil into the foundations – at a cost of nearly LE 150,000 which Awad will have to incur.
If the owner does not abide by the committee’s decisions, he could face jail.
But Awad says that “if [they] had that kind of money [they] would have gone to another apartment.
Building contractor Sayed Kassab, who says he’s had 25 years experience in the field, says the district’s solution to the problem is “a fraud.
He does not think it is a viable and lasting solution. Instead he thinks the pipes must be changed and the whole building must come down. “It’s going to fall and kill all these people, he warned.
By Saturday tenants had removed their belongings from the top three floors.
The government has offered alternative housing in other neighborhoods for the three families whose homes would be removed, though the keys have yet to be delivered to them.
While Mahmoud Awad said that the apartments are probably “of very poor quality, and in distant neighborhoods, they have no other choice but to go.