CAIRO, Egypt – The death toll from a devastating rock slide that buried a shanty town rose to 47 on Monday, a security official said as recovery efforts switched to high gear after days of delay.
The death toll was expected to climb sharply as recovery efforts hastened, officials said.
A total of 47 bodies had been pulled from the site of Saturday's disaster by midday Monday, said a security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Workers at the scene had begun to use heavy machinery like diggers to clear away rocks to recover hundreds more bodies believed buried below. Because of that, they expected the death toll to climb throughout Monday, said both the security official and rescue workers at the scene.
The stench at the scene from decaying bodies was heavy by midday Monday, local people and eyewitnesses said.
Earlier Monday, the Health Ministry had put the death toll first at 38, then at 43 as more bodies were recovered. Another 57 people were injured with 21 still in hospitals, the ministry said, according to the state news agency.
Hopes have fallen of finding more survivors among the hundreds of people still believed trapped beneath the massive boulders that destroyed the impoverished neighborhood.
Anger and resentment had mounted throughout Saturday and Sunday as authorities struggled to get heavy machinery into the area to clear the large slabs that split away from the Muqattam cliffs early Saturday.
The densely populated area, part of a sprawling slum known as Manshiyet Nasr, is sandwiched between unstable cliffs and an unused railroad track.
But army personnel and civil defense workers managed to cut into the railway track late Sunday and demolish several houses to clear the way for diggers starting Monday.
Meanwhile, President Hosni Mubarak chaired a meeting of his government's ministers to discuss how to alleviate victims' suffering, the state news agency said. It released no details.
Aboul-Ela Amin Mohammed, the head of the earthquake department at the National Research Institute for Astronomy and Geophysics, said the entire plateau remains in danger of further collapse.
"It is not the first time or the last time," he told The Associated Press late Sunday. "The area is full of densely packed informal housing with no central sewer system. ... When the sewage touches the fragile surface of the limestone it changes its consistency into a flour-like paste."
Despite residents' pleas to a local council to provide safer housing, little action was taken for years, said Mustafa Mahmoud Sayyed, a five-year resident of the slum.
Sayyed said his one-floor house of bricks with a wood ceiling was built illegally near the cliff edge after a bribe was paid to a city council engineer.
Hundreds of new government-provided apartments have been built just a 10-minute walk from the slums, but residents say only 5 percent of that housing is occupied because few people can afford the necessary bribes to gain a spot.
Haidar Baghdadi, the parliamentary representative of the area, told the AP that 388 apartments from the complex would be made available soon to those who lost their homes. Most residents interviewed Sunday, however, said they had yet to be approached.