The last weeks of the year 2008 were witness to two of the worst road accidents, closing off a year marred by disasters and fires that claimed tens of lives and left many homeless.
By far, the Duweiqa rockslide was the worst crisis all year. The official death tally was at 100, but surviving residents put the number closer to 500. Hundreds of others were injured and over 500 families were left homeless when, at 9 am on Sept. 6, huge boulders slid off the Moqqatam hill over 35 homes in the shantytown Izbet Bekhit in the greater Manshiyet Nasser area. The section of the hill that slid off was estimated to be 60 meters wide and 15 meters high. Some of the boulders weighed as much as 70 tons.
Whole families were buried under the rubble.
At the time, the Minister of Social Solidarity Ali Moselhi said that the government would pay LE 5,000 to the family of each person killed and LE 1,000 to each one injured person.
Although the cause of the slide was not confirmed, residents believe that it was a result of sewage works by the local council for buildings at the top of the hill, citing the fact that the smaller pieces that cracked off the large boulders were slushy, as if mixed with liquid.
The surviving residents’ anger was palpable, as they blamed officials for the disaster. Many complained that there had been great opposition to building more homes on top of the hill, but that didn’t deter the council from granting UAE-based Emaar permission to a mega development project.
A few months before disaster struck, residents speaking to Daily News Egypt had voiced grave concern over the possibility that the giant eroding slabs of rock hanging over their homes might fall.
“The rock was secure when we first came here. But with the water and wind, it was slowly eroding. We have complained to the local municipality, and the governorate office in Abdeen, but to no avail. An inspector came in his car, but didn’t even bother to get out. He looked out his window, and drove off, resident Suraya Abdel-Qader Ali has said in July.
Additionally, new houses that were built for the residents as part of First Lady Suzanne Mubarak’s housing for the poor project remained unoccupied. The Interior Ministry released a statement saying that plans had been underway to relocate the residents within one month. Until today, many residents remain homeless.
The Duweiqa disaster and how badly it was handled by the civil emergency authorities was a repeat of the second major accident to capture public attention in 2008. The fire which erupted inside the Shoura Council building last August left around 13 people injured and one firefighter dead.
It started on the third floor then spread downwards, engulfing the other two floors over the course of several hours, destroying the ceilings of each of the Shoura Council’s three stories. The near loss of this historic building sparked a debate over where such priceless edifices were insured, or safely equipped with fire alarms and extinguishing systems.
At the time Parliament Speaker Fathi Sorour announced that copies of all archived material were safe, but nonetheless encouraged the formation of a special committee from the PA to visit the Shoura archives room to see for themselves that no important documents were lost.
Both the Duweiqa rockslide and the Shoura Council fire called into question the government’s ability to handle crisis situations, a fact that was soon tested once more when another major fire gutted Egypt’s National Theater.
A few hours after the fire broke out, two theater workers were arrested on suspicion of negligence and misuse of public funds leading to the fire.
Stage manager Girguis Mikhail Hanna and electrician Mohamed Bakry Darwish were arraigned for failing to follow safety regulations which led to an electric short circuit. The fire did not cause any deaths, but six firefighters were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.
The theater, which was built in 1935 and is one of the oldest theaters in the county, is located in the heart of Downtown Cairo, ironically not too far from the Shoura Council, which burnt down only weeks before.
Road accidents were also especially unnerving this year. Sixty people were killed earlier this month when a bus plunged into a canal south of Cairo in the deadliest road accident in Egypt in two decades.
The bus carrying 73 people swerved into the canal to avoid an oncoming truck as it traveled on the main highway connecting Cairo to Minya, a security official had said.
According to the officials, 60 bodies were recovered and 10 passengers were taken to hospital with injuries.
Police detained both the truck driver and the bus driver for questioning and the governor promised LE10,000 in compensation to the victims’ families and LE 3,000 to the injured.
A week earlier, 15 Coptic students lost their lives when another bus overturned while traveling from Minya to Alexandria. A further 24 students were injured in the accident.
Eight people, including six schoolgirls, were killed last September when a truck plunged into the river in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya.