CASABLANCA, Morocco: The scene was like an earthquake, but residents say the collapse of three buildings last week in Casablanca that killed 23 people was the man-made result of greed and corruption.
As onlookers watched from behind emergency barriers surrounding the site Monday, diggers cleared away the wreckage of the crumpled buildings in Al-Hank district and inhabitants sifted through the rubble looking for personal belongings.
The day before, the toll from Friday’s disaster jumped as 15 more bodies were found by the emergency services, on top of the eight already recovered.
There is still no confirmation as to why the three houses, which were built in the 1960s, collapsed.
But Mourad Nouisser, whose father owned one of them, is in no doubt that illegal building work played a key role.
“Houses in this area should not be more than three storys high. But because of corruption, my father was able to build a fourth and then a fifth floor ... he was greedy,” said Nouisser, who no longer lived in the building.
“If it was dangerous, the authorities only had to deny him permission. It’s a crime,” he added angrily, blaming both his father and those who he claims provided falsified documents.
Shortly before the house collapsed early Friday morning, residents had noticed signs that it was subsiding, with some of the doors not closing properly and dust coming out of fresh cracks in the walls.
Standing in front of the collapsed buildings, Abdelrahim al-Gouti said all the residents were to blame, for not having spoken out.
“All of us saw our neighbors adding extra floors, but none of us said anything.”
Trapped in the building when it collapsed, he was able to call friends from his mobile phone, who came to his rescue quicker than the emergency services.
Moroccan newspapers have criticized the sluggish response by the security services – whose efforts were interrupted several times due to a lack of equipment.
But they also pointed the finger of blame at the poorly-regulated housing sector, which condemns many of Casablanca’s 5 million residents to live in hazardous accommodation, including in the city’s sprawling slums.
After a string of similar accidents, the housing minister in 2012 said that between 4,000 and 7,000 buildings in Casablanca were at risk of collapse.
Despite the government announcing several initiatives to renovate buildings in danger, the problem persists.
“Why does permission to build one or two-story houses so often lead to the construction of four or five floors?” asked the French-language daily Aujourd’hui Le Maroc.
“Dilapidated, lacking maintenance, corruption, ignorance and carelessness amount to a list of fatal ingredients,” the paper said.