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Death toll rises to 25 in collapse of Beirut building

Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

A man mourned his relatives as workers removed a body from a collapsed building in Beirut.

BEIRUT - Using bulldozers and their bare hands, Lebanese workers pulled bodies from the rubble of a collapsed five-story residential building yesterday, bringing the death toll to 25, officials said.

Most of the dead were foreign workers living in Lebanon. The owner of the building was arrested yesterday, a day after the building suddenly disintegrated into a pile of twisted metal and broken concrete.

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“The ground shook like an earthquake; that’s what we all thought,’’ said Mazen Farhat, 46, who lives in the area and was passing by when the building collapsed. “I heard screams, and then the dust was everywhere, and I ran.’’

Building collapses in Lebanon are rare, and officials said the cause was not yet clear. It is possible that cracks in the old building were made worse by heavy rain or the effects of several nearby construction sites. Some residents reported hearing a small blast earlier this week, which turned out to be the snap of a pillar in the building.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said the building’s owner, Michel Saadeh, was being questioned.

Red Cross and civil defense workers in bright orange uniforms pulled out several bodies on stretchers yesterday, rushing them away as relatives gasped and cried softly.

Among them were the bodies of Tanios Farhat, 73, and his three sons, who appeared to have been trapped under the rubble as they tried to save their father.

Rescue efforts were complicated Sunday by heavy rains and a thunderstorm.

Some 50 tenants lived in the building in Beirut’s Fassouh district of Ashrafieh. It collapsed at around 6 p.m. Sunday as residents were returning home from work, increasing the number of casualties, officials said.

The victims included eight Sudanese, two Filipinos, two Egyptians, and two Jordanians, according to the security officials.

Ten Lebanese also died.

Several others were still missing, but officials said they did not expect to find any survivors.

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