CAIRO: Two years after the death of 119 people in the Duweiqa rockslide, many residents are still living in tents or in dilapidated homes, with serious complaints that fall on deaf ears.
The fatal rockslide that took place on Sept. 6, 2008, was preceded with similar complaints and reports that declared the area unsafe for its residents. Officials were tried and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and negligence for ignoring such reports. The charges were then scrapped or commuted by and an appeals court.
Last Tuesday, the Gammaliya and Manshiyet Nasser Misdemeanor Appeals Court acquitted former deputy Cairo governor Mahmoud Yassin of charges of involuntary manslaughter and injury of the Duweiqa residents.
Head of housing and property management department in Manshiyet Nasser neighborhood Mohamed Hussein Gomaa was also acquitted of the same charges. Verdicts against six other officials were commuted to one year in prison.
Prior to the rockslide, official technical reports demanded that homes located within 15 meters of the Duweiqa cliff be evacuated for the safety of the residents. Many boulders soaked with sewage water rest directly above the region in question.
Since the accident, authorities have built a wall surrounding the area where the rockslide occurred.
After the incident
Two years after the disaster, the scene in the area is a dreadful one. Houses are piled on top of an unsafe landscape that could crumble anytime, and the incredibly narrow streets covered in garbage and ruins make it difficult to even walk through the area.
Inside many homes, cracks cover the walls, precarious wood ceilings look as though they could snap at any minute, and furniture is so rare that most residents sleep on the floor and children frequently share their meals on small tables.
In the area where the rockslide occurred, outlaws have settled where family residences once stood. Reports of drug use and attacks on passersby at night have left many residents terrified.
Sayed Shaker, whose house is adjacent to the fallen boulders, says the residents have been telling officials about the plethora of ongoing problems in the area that need immediate attention. They are yet to receive a response.
Shaker’s sister lives in a house two meters away. Five months ago, while she was out she received a phone call from her husband that the walls were cracking in their children’s room. When they tried to inspect the crack, a portion of their home collapsed on them and injured their children.
Now, as cracks have spread throughout the walls of their home, Shaker lives in constant fear that his house may collapse on his wife and two children at any given moment.
Fatma Ibrahim, one of Shaker’s neighbors, had her 18-year-old son live with relatives in Upper Egypt due to fears that the house would at some point collapse on him while he was asleep. To try to cover the countless cracks in her home, she covered her walls with plastic wrap.
Residents here are eager to tell their stories, but when they do, despair quickly seeps through their words. They “have been telling them for two years but nothing has changed,” many explained.
To demonstrate the gravity of the situation to authorities, they even recorded footage of sewage water flooding their homes, but their calls to officials still went ignored.
For now, the residents can do nothing but hope that local officials will fulfill their promise to relocate them to Al Nahda or Al Salam.
Earlier this month, First Lady Suzanne Mubarak announced the completion of the "New Duweiqa" project: a new city adjacent to the Duweiqa slums, comprised of 10,000 residential units reserved for current Duweiqa inhabitants. The streets of the newly built city are paved, and the buildings are carefully designed and freshly painted.
Photos were taken of Mubarak as she handed the new residents their ownership contracts. But Waheed Ezz El-Din, a local resident, says that the people she took photos with aren’t even from Duweiqa, and that they were ordered to leave the homes two days after receiving their contracts. According to Waheed Ezz El-Din, the new homes are currently empty.
"These new apartments aren’t for Duweiqa residents; people come from other governorates and pretend they are from Duweiqa and get the apartments," Waheed Ezz El-Din said. "All you have to do is put LE 2000 in the district engineer’s pocket or know someone working there and the apartment will be yours."
Waheed Ezz El-Din also says that those who didn’t receive apartments are now homeless, living in open tents in front of the newly built homes. But even those who did receive apartments had to spend large sums of money to finish their interiors and to obtain water and electricity — despite what the terms of the contracts they received actually say.
"Every now and then, the survey committee comes and asks about family members and tells us that we will be relocated soon but nothing happens," said Duweiqa resident Ali Mohamed. "They bring down houses randomly and relocate their residents."
Ezz El-Din’s brother, Antar, had a large cavity underneath his house and filed a complaint. Officials told him to wait for a geologist’s report that Antar said "never came," leaving his house on the brink of collapse. He says he is ready to abandon his shop if it means a better home for him and his family.
"Living conditions here are hard," Antar Ezz El-Din said. "All we want is to be relocated anywhere else."
The disaster re-lived
Locals wanted to commemorate the second anniversary of the disaster, but authorities refused. They said they don’t want people to be reminded of what happened.
However, Waheed Ezz El-Din and others still remember how people called for help from underneath the rock. Those who couldn’t be saved were buried alive under the boulder. The smell of dead bodies lingered for a long time, according to locals.
"Following the disaster, people came from everywhere and claimed they were Duweiqa residents," said Waheed Ezz El-Din. "[They] took the aid supplies and some got the apartments [designated for] the homeless people."
A month before the disaster, people had reported seeing small rock pieces fall, but local officials ignored their reports. Now they just hope the officials’ promise that they will be relocated will soon be fulfilled. Given the circumstances, however, their expectations aren’t very high.
Many of the new buildings that were built for the relocation of the residents are largely unoccupied as they live in the adjacent slums. (Daily News Egypt Photo/Tamim Elyan)