200 year-old house collapses, killing two Civil Defense arrived too late, say residents [Archives:2008/1146/Local News]

April 14 2008

Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, April, 13 ) An old house dating back 200 years in the old city of Sana'a, in Al-Madrasa neighborhood, collapsed due to a lightning storm last week. The collapse caused two deaths and two injuries.

According to Ibrahim Muhammad, the neighborhood's aqel (zone leader), the house collapsed on Thursday at 4:30 pm while it was raining. “Immediately we came and started to dig to take out the bodies,” he said.

“I saw lightning strike the house and in a few seconds the entire house was destroyed, so I called the neighbors and whoever was near the house to help the people,” said neighbor Muhammed Al-Thamari.

The casualties were an 8-year-old boy Fraida Abud Al-Karim Shokri and his 18-year-old sister Farida, who were buried under the rubble. The father is in intensive care and another brother has a broken hand.

This is not the first time this has happened in the old city of Sana'a, but it is the first time that lightning caused a house to collapse, added Ahmed Al-Haimmi, secretary in the General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities in Yemen (GOPHCY). The region's residents revealed their anger due to the delay of key services which could have prevented the tragedy.

“We called the Civil Defense and the ambulance in order to come as soon as possible. However, they arrived after we had finished digging, and they came without any digging equipment, first aid or oxygen,” said Ibrahim Muhammad.

Residents who were present at the time of the collapse and helped with the digging said that the littlie boy and his sister were alive and breathing when brought out, but because they had been buried for many hours under the ground, their conditions were critical. “If the ambulance had brought oxygen, maybe they would have survived. Also, instead of putting the girl in the ambulance, they shifted her to a police car. We are sure the two would have survived if the responsible authorities were qualified. Also, due to a lack of digging equipment, digging with just our hands took longer. Sadly, the 8-year-old breathed his last at 6 pm and the girl at 8 pm,” said Muhammed Muhammed Jaila and “This problem has been taken to the Sana'a local council, and we hope that there will be compensation for their house. Also, we will rent a house for them until they find a solution. We will also write to the governorate to help this family and compensate them,” said Ibrahim Muhammad. He added, “We talked to the GOPHCY and gave them a report about the case and the damage that occurred, but nothing has been done so far.”

The GOPHCY will make a report in order to evaluate the damage and assess repairs. According to Khalid Al-Jubari, the organization's deputy chairman, “We are doing as much as we can to repair the collapsed house, but the problem is that we do not have enough money to do that, as it costs a lot, and at the same time we have many other houses, so maybe it will be difficult for us to bear the full cost.”

Old Sana'a was placed on the listed of UNESCO heritage cities in 1986. However, the region's houses are subjected to collapse due to lack of maintenance

More than 80 houses in the old city are in danger of collapsing at any time, said Al-Jubari.

“We have to request the Ministry of Culture, the Executive Committee for repairing of the old city of old Sana'a and the Prime Minister in order to support and consider this problem and fix it, as it will be a very hard job for us with our little budget to do that,” said Al-Jubari.

According to Al-Haimmi, many of the endangered historical houses are on the list to be fixed. However, he added, “According to my experience in the GOPHCY, I can say that the collapsed house will not be repaired at all, and nothing will be done for the victims.”