French officials vowed to inspect all Marseille buildings “unsuitable” for habitation as anger rose over the collapse of two buildings in the Mediterranean city, where up to eight people are feared dead.
A fifth body was recovered on Wednesday morning under rubble of the dilapidated buildings, which crumbled suddenly on Monday morning in Noailles, a working-class district in the heart of the port city.
The dead include two women and three men, prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux told AFP. According to authorities, a total of five to eight people could have died in the collapse.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told lawmakers in Paris 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 have been identified as at risk” in the city, he said, representing some 44,000 lodgings in lower-class neighbourhoods, calling the situation unacceptable.
Rescuers have been delicately searching what is left of the buildings. A third adjoining building partially collapsed on Monday night.
Residents said Tuesday the structural risks of the buildings and others like them were widely known, but that city officials did little when alerted about them.
“Everybody knew about the problems with the two collapsed buildings,” said Patrick Lacoste, a spokesman for a local housing action group.
“People died for nothing, even though we knew.”
“It’s hell here, they know that it’s crap and now people die for nothing,” said local resident Toufik Ben Rhouma. The disaster, he added, was “100 percent the fault of city hall”.
“It’s been 10 years that I have been living here and I have never had anyone come and inspect my apartment,” said a woman who identified herself as Sophie. Her neighbour said she hadn’t seen any inspector in 27 years.
On Tuesday afternoon, some residents returned to their homes in neighbouring buildings to pack up belongings in bags and suitcases, some leaving carrying televisions with them, an AFP reporter said.
– ‘It could have been me’ –
Only one of the buildings was occupied, as the two others were in such a bad state that they had been condemned.
Google Maps images taken in recent months showed the collapsed buildings had large cracks in their facades.
People had been living in nine of the 10 apartments in one of the buildings, while a shop occupied the ground floor.
A young waiter watched the scene with tears in his eyes, anxious for news of an Italian woman who lived in the building.
“She was a great girl, she used to come and study at the bar,” he said, without giving his name.
Abdou Ali, 34, came in search of his mother after she did not come to collect her youngest son from school on Monday afternoon.
“I haven’t had any news,” he said, wandering among the rescuers.
Sophie Dorbeaux meanwhile told AFP she had left the block on Sunday night to stay with her parents because her door, like several others, was not opening or closing properly because of the building’s structural problems.
“The walls had been moving for several weeks and cracks had appeared,” the 25-year-old philosophy student said.
“It could have been me,” she added, visibly shaken.
Marseille city authorities, who have evacuated and rehoused 100 residents from nearby buildings as a precaution, believe heavy rain may have contributed to the collapse.
But the incident — rare in a major Western city — has already sparked a political row over the quality of housing available to Marseille’s poorest residents.
The neighbourhood is home to many buildings in a similarly dilapidated condition, some of them 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 in an apartment block opposite the collapsed buildings.