Anger in France over deaths in buildings collapse
Officials to inspect dilapidated blocks in Marseille slums after residents accuse officials of ignoring warnings
A sixth body was found on Wednesday in the wreckage of two dilapidated buildings that collapsed in the French city of Marseille. Furious residents say officials ignored warnings about dangerous dwellings for poor people.
Officials have vowed to inspect all buildings in the southern city said to be “unsuitable” for habitation two days after the blocks of flats collapsed in a disaster rare for a major European city.
As many as eight people are feared to have been killed when the buildings crumbled on Monday morning in Noailles, a working-class district in the heart of the Mediterranean port city.
After searching rubble for a second night, rescuers had retrieved the bodies of four men and two women, said prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux.
“We’re working hard, so there’s still hope,” a rescue worker said as his team searched the debris with sniffer dogs.
But interior minister Christophe Castaner had said on Monday night there was “little chance of finding air pockets” in a pile of rubble stretching 15m.
The delicacy of the operation – and the fragility of the buildings – became clear when a third adjoining block partially collapsed on Monday night.
Google Maps images taken in recent months showed large cracks in the facades of the buildings, only one of which was occupied.
The two on either side were in such a bad state that they had been declared off limits and boarded up.
Residents say structural problems with the buildings on the narrow shopping street were widely known, but city officials did little when alerted about them.
“Everybody knew about the problems,” said Patrick Lacoste, a spokesperson for a local housing action group. “People died for nothing.” Resident Toufik Ben Rhouma said the neighbourhood was hell and the disaster was “100% the fault of city hall”.
Sophie Dorbeaux said she had left the now-demolished block on Sunday night to stay with her parents because her door, like several others, did not open or close properly.
“The walls had been moving for several weeks and cracks had appeared,” said the 25-year-old philosophy student. “It could have been me.”
Castaner told legislators in Paris on Tuesday that he had ordered a building-by-building audit before an “ambitious programme for ensuring safe conditions” along with Marseille authorities.
Nearly 6,000 properties in the city were identified as “at risk”. This involved about 44,000 dwellings in poor neighbourhoods.
Marseille city authorities, who have evacuated and rehoused 100 residents from nearby buildings, said heavy rain may have contributed to the collapse.
But critics said poor people in Marseille had lived in unacceptable conditions for a long time.
The neighbourhood hit by the disaster has many similarly dilapidated buildings, some run by slum landlords.
Marseille authorities began a vast upgrade plan for the city centre in 2011.
But a 2015 government report said about 100,000 Marseille residents were living in housing that was dangerous to their health or security.
“It’s unthinkable that such things happen in our time,” said Christian Gouverneur, who owns a flat across the road from the disaster site.