New demolitions halt search in deadly French building collapse

This handout photo released by BMPM/SM shows firemen covering a body at the site where two buildings collapsed, on November 6, 2018 in Marseille, southern France. - French rescue workers were searching into the night for possible victims under the wreckage of two dilapidated buildings that suddenly collapsed in the centre of Marseille. (Photo by Loic AEDO / BMPM/SM Aedo / AFP) /

Two dilapidated buildings next to those which collapsed in southern France were to be demolished Thursday, forcing rescue workers to call off their search after six bodies were pulled from the rubble.

Two people are thought to still be missing after two apartment buildings suddenly crumbled on Monday morning in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille.

A third building then collapsed later that day, slowing the search for survivors as rescue workers cautiously cleared the debris amid the risk that adjacent structures could fail as well.

Officials said late Wednesday they would have to destroy two more buildings at the site since they were no longer being supported by the adjacent structures.

Furious residents along the Rue d’Aubagne, many of whom have been evacuated from their homes, have accused city authorities of neglecting the safety risks at the derelict buildings despite years of complaints.

Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, the target of much of the criticism, will hold a press conference at 11:00 am (1000 GMT) to give an update on the situation and brief residents on the city’s plans for rehabilitating thousands of neglected lodgements.

“Gaudin, Fructus, murderers!” a crowd of around 100 protestors yelled at the site on Wednesday evening, referring to the mayor’s deputy in charge of housing, Arlette Fructus.

‘Nobody cares’

It was unclear when the search would resume since the two adjacent buildings would have to be torn down “piece by piece,” the government’s top official in the region, Pierre Dartout, said late Wednesday.

Marseille prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said it was not yet clear why how the two buildings, dating from the late 18th century, collapsed in a matter of seconds after a night of heavy rains.

But one of the buildings in Noailles, a working-class district just steps from the city’s bustling port, had already been condemned by city officials and boarded up for years.

Google Maps images taken in recent months showed large cracks in the facades of the buildings.

City officials said building experts inspected the occupied building on October 18 and shoring up work was then carried out before residents were allowed back in.

And Tarabeux said a resident in one of the apartments had called firemen the night before the disaster to warn that a crack in the wall had widened, only to call back later and say an intervention was not necessary.

The revelations further fanned the anger of residents, who say their complaints have been ignored for years.

“It’s only blacks and Arabs living here, so nobody cares,” said Adama, originally from the Comoro Islands.

“I pay rent — 380 euros ($430) a month — and I even pay a municipal housing tax. But you’ve seen the state of the buildings,” the young man said.

City authorities say they began a vast housing renovation plan for the city centre in 2011,

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has said 6,000 properties have been identified as “at risk” in the city, representing some 44,000 lodgings, mainly in lower-class neighbourhoods.

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.

In a separate incident on Wednesday, a building with three apartments collapsed in the centre of Charleville-Mezieres in northeast France, the very day President Emmanuel Macron held a cabinet meeting in the city as part of his tour of World War I sites this week.

No victims were reported, though some 50 people were evacuated from neighbouring buildings.

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