x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Builder dies saving his brother

A carpenter pushes his brother out of the way of a roof collapse, only to be buried under rubble.

The roof of a villa under construction collapsed on Wednesday in South Dhait, Ras al Khaimah.
The roof of a villa under construction collapsed on Wednesday in South Dhait, Ras al Khaimah.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Taha Hafifi was working alongside his younger brother, Mohammed, when he saw the freshly poured concrete roof begin to collapse. The 32-year-old carpenter and father managed to push Mohammed out of the way, only to be buried under a mound of rubble and twisted metal moments later.

When police arrived, the brothers' fellow labourers were crying and frantically digging through the debris, trying to get at the men who pleaded for help as they were trapped below. Within 40 minutes six workers had been rescued. Seven in all were taken to hospital with minor or moderate injuries, Mohammed among them. But amid all the chaos immediately after the collapse, which happened at a villa construction site in South Dhait at about midday on Wednesday, no one noticed that Taha Hafifi was missing until police arrived.

"I said, 'Give me the list of the people there,'" said Col Mohammad al Zaabi, the director of RAK Civil Defence. "When I checked, I saw one was lost. One man in the hospital said, 'My brother is there.' He said, 'He was with me, by my side.'" RAK Police, Civil Defence and Dubai Search and Rescue staff converged on the scene, conducting a search that ended yesterday, 24 hours later, when Taha's body was recovered and taken to hospital for a post-mortem examination.

Mohammed Hafifi, 26, cannot remember the accident clearly. "When the ceiling fell down, I didn't know what happened," he said. "They told me my brother was down. I saw my brother go down and I could not rescue him." Mohammed was treated briefly at hospital, then waited at the site through the night, praying for his brother while rescue workers tried desperately to find Taha in the mountain of twisted metal, concrete and plywood.

He recalled a similar accident a month ago at the same site. One worker returned to Egypt, he said, after breaking both arms when he fell from a landing. Workers, he said, did not complain. "We cannot do anything." Taha was paid Dh120 (US$33) a day, which he used to support his wife and two-year-old daughter in Egypt. "We will take care of them," said Mohammed, who now plans to return to Egypt permanently.

Five workers sustained minor injuries, and two remained in hospital with moderate injuries, said Yousuf al Tair, head of emergency at Saqr Hospital. Civil Defence believe the roof collapsed because the shuttering meant to hold the newly poured concrete in place was not adequately supported. RAK Municipality declined comment until an investigation has been completed. Two days earlier, engineers from the municipality had declared the site safe in a routine inspection, according to Civil Defence.

"It's safe," said Sayed Mahamad, a 26-year-old electrician who works and lives at the site and helped with the rescue. "Everything is checked fully. I don't know what happened. After two days engineers were here and everything was OK. Salary is good, everything is good. We have no objections, no problems." azacharias@thenational.ae