A fifth body has been found in the rubble of two dilapidated buildings that collapsed in the centre of Marseille earlier this week.
Emergency workers are continuing to sift through the ruins for another three people who are still believed to be missing since the two buildings crumbled suddenly on Monday morning.
The discovery of a fifth victim at dawn on Wednesday came as angry local people accused Marseille officials of leaving the city’s poorer residents living in dangerous housing.
As the political row grew, the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, announced he had ordered a building-by-building audit in Marseilles before launching what he called an “ambitious programme” to ensure safer conditions.
Rescue work has been hampered by heavy rain, and evidence suggests the collapse has destabilised neighbouring buildings.
“We are continuing our work in the hope of finding survivors,” Charles-Henri Garie, head of the Marseille fire service, told BFM TV.
Two buildings containing apartments at numbers 63 and 65 Rue de l’Aubagne suddenly collapsed in the rundown Noailles district of the Mediterranean port on Monday morning. A third building, number 67, partially crumbled a few hours later.
Only one of the buildings, number 65, was occupied. The others were so dilapidated they had been condemned and were boarded up, though locals said they were frequently used by squatters.
Residents say they had warned the buildings were structurally unsound for years, but accused city authorities of doing little.
Images taken before the collapse show large cracks in the facade of number 63; a former resident, retired college lecturer Mark Mason, told the Guardian he had been forced to sell his flat in the building to the council in 2012 under a compulsory purchase order after the first storey floor collapsed and chunks of masonry began falling from the building.
“Everybody knew about the problems with the two collapsed buildings,” Patrick Lacoste, a spokesman for a local housing action group, said. “People died for nothing even though we knew,” he added.
A local resident, Toufik Ben Rhouma, blamed Marseille city hall for the disaster. “It’s hell here … and now people die for nothing,” he said.
“It’s been 10 years that I’ve been living here and I’ve never had anyone come and inspect my apartment,” another local resident called Sophie told AFP.
Marseille city council has evacuated and rehoused 100 residents from neighbouring buildings and says heavy rain may have contributed to the collapse.
Noailles, in the central 1st arrondissement has several dilapidated buildings, some run by slum landlords.
In 2011 the local authorities began a plan to renovate the city centre, but a 2015 government report suggested that 100,000 Marseille residents were living in housing dangerous to their health or security.
Christian Nicol, a former buildings inspector who oversaw the 2015 report, told RTL radio this represented around 13% of homes. He added that the figures had changed little since making Marseille the European city with “the most decaying housing”.
Marseille Public prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux has confirmed the bodies of three men and two women have pulled from the rubble that is 15m deep in places.
He said it was believed that eight people – five residents and three visitors – were in number 65 when it collapsed.
This story originally appeared in The Guardian. Image courtesy of Alain Robert/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock.