At least 13 people died, including five rescue workers, and many others were feared dead after a clothing factory caught fire and collapsed in Alexandria, police said Thursday.
Among those feared dead were a group of children as well as Alexandria's fire and disaster chief, General Mohammed Ragai, who were in the building when it caved in on them after the blaze had been extinguished Wednesday evening.
Their bodies have not been recovered from the rubble, which was still being cleared Thursday by dozens of rescue workers aided by earth-moving equipment.
But the police said the bodies of five workers from the Civil Defense fire and rescue squad, who had been with Ragai during a post-fire inspection, and eight other adults had been pulled from the rubble.
"The life of a rescue worker is always at risk," said a worker from the Muslim Red Crescent, a parallel organization with the Red Cross, who said the group "died in the line of duty."
One person died shortly after the blaze broke out on Wednesday morning at the six-story building in the city's Sidi Gaber neighborhood, which was believed to have been started by an electrical short circuit, police said.
Police said that twenty-six people, including three firefighters, were injured and treated in two nearby hospitals.
Walid al-Beheiry, an eyewitness, told AFP the firefighters and other civil defense teams arrived immediately on the scene in the industrial zone of Egypt's second city but it took them seven hours to extinguish the fire.
"When the fire started all the factory workers, mainly young women, were evacuated," he said.
"You couldn't see any fire at the end but you could still see smoke," Beheiry added.
"A bunch of young children got into the factory after the fire was out so they could take clothes, and in seconds the whole six storeys collapsed, trapping them under the rubble along with the civil defense chief," he said.
"We could only see a huge cloud of dust and blocks of concrete falling," he added.
Police confirmed that a group of children were in the building when it collapsed and that they were still looking for their bodies.
There were still clusters of bystanders near the scene in the area, which is home to a number of factories.
The government-run Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that a neighboring factory was evacuated after cracks appeared in the wake of the incident and that two fire engines were crushed when the clothing factory collapsed.
Police had cordoned off the area Thursday morning, keeping anxious relatives away from the scene of devastation, as four Caterpillar trucks worked to remove the debris.
A large crane could be seen removing large blocks of concrete, as several ambulances remained on standby.
Al-Akhbar said the factory had suffered a previous fire around the beginning of this year which destabilized the building and that proper renovation work had not been carried out.
First estimates put the cost of the destruction at around 2.5 million dollars, police said - ALEXANDRIA (AFP)
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