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Cairo building collapse traps 15 under rubble

A 12-story building that had drawn police attention for alleged illegal renovations collapsed in a Cairo suburb during a fire Monday night, trapping some 15 people and injuring 33 others, police said.

Rescuers pulled a fire brigade officer alive from the rubble, his face covered with dust. He was taken to an ambulance amid cries of "Allahu akbar!" or "God is great," from onlookers.

All but two of the trapped were firefighters and policemen dispatched to put out the blaze, the officials said on condition of anonymity. Hundreds of people lived in the building, but most had evacuated by the time it collapsed three hours after the fire began in a home appliances store.

Rescuers continued searching through the night for more survivors.

The owner of the building had illegally added four floors 12 years ago and ignored an order to tear them down, police said. Tenants had also complained to police six days ago about renovations in the store where the fire began; they feared the work would damage the foundations.

The 33 people hospitalized included both police and residents. There was no immediate word on the nature of the injuries or their conditions.

The officials first said the fire broke out at an Egyptian fast-food restaurant on the ground floor, but later reported it began at the adjacent store.

A police officer at the scene, briefing reporters afterward, also said 16 people were trapped. The unnamed officer identified the civilians as workers in the store where the fire started.

But the Middle East News Agency quoted Cairo security chief Nabil el-Ezzabi as saying eight people, including three policemen, remained trapped about three hours after the collapse. It was not clear if the discrepancy was because people had been pulled out of the rubble.

The building, built in 1981, was in Nasr City, an eastern suburb of the Egyptian capital near the airport. The area is home to many high-rise residential buildings and shopping areas.

The structure collapsed accordion-style into a pile of rubble about two stories high. Several satellite dishes rested intact on the roof, and a panda toy, slippers, bags and a brass pot were scattered in the debris.

Rescuers cleared rubble by hand in search of survivors for several hours and were joined by bulldozers early today.

Building collapses are common in Egypt and are often caused by shoddy construction or the unauthorized building of extra stories. The last such incident was May 4, when a seven-story apartment building collapsed in Cairo, killing at least seven people.