x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Fears death toll could climb as rescuers sift through UAE mosque wreckage

One man has been confirmed dead but the search continues for more bodies in the rubble of the collapsed mosque in Madinat Zayed.

Rescue workers continue to sift through the wreckage of the collapsed mosque where at least one man died and 17 were injured. Ravindranath K / The National
Rescue workers continue to sift through the wreckage of the collapsed mosque where at least one man died and 17 were injured. Ravindranath K / The National

MADINAT ZAYED // More bodies are feared to be buried beneath the rubble of a mosque that was under construction when the roof collapsed on Saturday night.

So far one man has been confirmed dead and 17 injured. But a  JCB driver who was helping clear the site yesterday confirmed that police has asked him to remove rubble very carefully because they were looking for more bodies.

Western Region police have been carefully sifting through the wreckage after a support structure gave way while workers poured concrete on the ceiling of the mosque in New Shabia, Madinat Zayed.

Western Region Municipality officials believed that the weight-bearing support jacks being used by the building company were old and unfit for the job.

Labourers were evacuated after the collapse and emergency teams gave injured workers first aid before being taken to Madinat Zayed Hospital, where some spent the night.

All but one of the labourers were Asian, including the dead worker. The other man was an Arab.

“What I believe is that there were problems from the contracting company. I think the jacks they put there were used jacks – that’s why it all happened,” Hamad Salem Ali Al Hameli, the communications manager at the municipality said yesterday.

The mosque was to be the largest in the area with a capacity of 40,000 worshippers when completed. It was to replace the smaller mosques that are insufficient for the more than 100 homes in the area.

According to a municipality source, the contractor assigned to the job may have outsourced some work to smaller companies.

“It could be one of reasons of the collapse. But still we are still not sure about it until the final report is submitted by the authorities,” he said.

Ordinarily, municipality inspectors visit the site, conducting various checks but, as the incident took place on a Saturday, inspectors were off-duty.

The municipality source explained that the mosque was more than eight metres in height.

Small contractors are only allowed to work on structures up to 3.5 metres in height, which requires small weight-bearing jacks. Taller structures require bigger jacks.

The hot weather was a factor cited by the municipality source. Concrete can develop cracks when it is too hot – on Saturday it was 45°C.

He said workers had been waiting for a cooler day to start roof construction. Work began at 5pm – the roof collapsed an hour and a half later.

anwar@thenational.ae