Iran building collapse kills 14 as mayor and others detained

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The death toll from the collapse of a commercial building still under construction in south-western Iran has reached 14, according to Iranian media.

The collapse of an under-construction 10-storey tower at the Metropol Building in the city of Abadan exposed its cement blocks and steel beams while also underscoring an ongoing crisis in Iranian construction projects that has seen other disasters in this earthquake-prone nation.

Video from the initial collapse on Monday showed thick dust rise over Abadan, a crucial oil-producing city in Khuzestan province, near Iran’s border with Iraq.

The Metropol Building included two towers, one already built and the other under construction, though its bottom commercial floors had been finished and already had tenants.

On Tuesday, an emergency official interviewed on state television suggested that some 50 people may have been inside of the building at the time of the collapse, including people moving into its basement floors.

Iran Building Collapse
At least 39 people were injured in the collapse (Mohammad Amin Ansari, Fars News Agency via AP)

Aerial drone footage aired on Tuesday showed the floors had pancaked on top of each other, leaving a pile of dusty, grey debris. A construction crane stood still nearby as a single backhoe dug.

State TV, quoting Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi late on Tuesday night, said at least 14 people had been killed.

An angry crowd at the site chased and beat Abadan mayor Hossein Hamidpour immediately after the collapse, according to the semi-official ILNA news agency and online videos.

Police later arrested Mr Hamidpour and nine others, Iranian media reported on Tuesday.

Initially, authorities said the building’s owner and its general contractor had been arrested as well, though a later report from the judiciary’s Mizan news agency said that the two men had been killed in the collapse. The conflicting reports could not be immediately reconciled.

Authorities offered no immediate word on whether those detained faced charges and it was not immediately clear if lawyers represented them.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi offered his condolences and appealed to the local authorities to get to the bottom of the case. Iran’s vice president in charge of economic affairs, Mohsen Razaei, and Mr Vahidi visited the site.

Politicians opened a separate parliament inquiry into the case on Tuesday, trying to determine why the building on Amir Kabir Street collapsed during a sandstorm.

However, there was no major earthquake recorded on Monday near Abadan, some 660 kilometres (410 miles) southwest of Tehran.

A local journalist in Abadan had repeatedly raised concerns about the building’s construction, beginning from last year, publishing images that he said showed sagging floors at the first tower. He also alleged corruption in the building permits process.

Later on Tuesday, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Faramarz Zoghi, a construction expert and adviser to Iran’s construction engineers league, as saying that “definitely national construction measures were not observed” at the site.

Authorities also declared a one-day mourning period over the disaster.

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