Anger mounts after deadly Marseille building collapse

Firemen remove rubble at the site where two buildings collapsed in Marseille. (BMPM/SM/LOIC AEDO/AFP)
Updated 07 November 2018
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Anger mounts after deadly Marseille building collapse

  • ‘Everybody knew about the problems with the two collapsed buildings’
  • ‘It’s unthinkable that such things happen in our time’

MARSEILLE: 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 said. 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 program 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 neighborhoods, 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 neighbor said she hadn’t seen any inspector in 27 years.
On Tuesday afternoon, some residents returned to their homes in neighboring buildings to pack up belongings in bags and suitcases, some leaving carrying televisions with them, an AFP reporter said.
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 said 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 neighborhood 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 center 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.


Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

Updated 21 May 2019
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Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

  • The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims

DHAKA: As the clock strikes 6 p.m., Shudhhanondo Mohathero hurries to the kitchen to alert his army of 15 monks that they have less than 40 minutes until iftar. 

Soon, people will begin queuing outside the Dharmarajika Bouddha Bihar, a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka, where Mohathero hands out free food packs to fasting Muslims who are too poor to buy a meal to end their fast.

It is a tradition that 89-year-old Mohathero started 10 years ago when he assumed responsibility for the temple’s upkeep.

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” Mohathero told Arab News.

Built in 1951, the monastery, which is located in Basabo in the eastern part of Dhaka, has been involved in various social welfare activities. Since the start of Ramadan this year, almost 200 food packs have been doled out every day, with plans to double the number by the end of the month. The 15 monks who live in the monastery prepare the food boxes for iftar.

At a cost of around 80 cents, which is funded by the temple, each box contains traditional Bangladeshi iftar items such as puffed rice, boiled and seasoned chickpeas, jilapi (a deep-fried sweet pastry), beguni (deep-fried eggplant) and dal bora (a fried item with smashed lentils and dates).

“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” Mohathero said. 

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return.”

Shudhhanondo Mohathero, Chief monk of Dhaka’s Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims.

“I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily-wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” Asma Khatun, a local resident, said.

Another devotee, Sharif Hossain, said that iftar from the monastery “is like a divine blessing.”

“After losing all my properties in a river erosion, I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he said. 

Talking about his experience being part of a project that builds communal harmony, Prantar Borua, an apprentice monk at the temple, said: “We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing. It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.”

The monastery’s generosity has won praise from the Bangladesh authorities, too.

“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and interreligious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said.

“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land,” he added.