Dubai, United Arab Emirates — The death toll in a catastrophic collapse of a tower in southwestern Iran rose to at least 38 on Sunday, state television reported, as aid workers pulled another body from the rubble amid fears more could become trapped in the destruction.
It is unclear how many people are still missing in the collapse of the under-construction tower of the Metropol building in Abadan nearly two weeks ago. Rescuers were still at work and families were still waiting to hear from their loved ones, despite promises that the search would now be completed.
The structural failure of construction in the oil-rich but impoverished province of Khuzestan has drawn public attention to shoddy building practices and led to massive accusations of corruption and government negligence. Authorities have arrested 13 people as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the disaster, including Abadan mayor Hossein Hamidpour, who resigned last Friday.
Protesters have gathered at the site of the collapse in mourning, denouncing top officials and demanding accountability, according to videos widely shared on social media and analyzed by The Associated Press. However, reporting on events in Abadan remains extremely difficult as the threat of arrest looms. Authorities have disrupted internet access, experts say, limiting people’s ability to share videos and information.
In an effort to allay public mistrust, President Ebrahim Raisi paid a surprise visit to Abadan last Friday, where he inspected the crash site and offered personal condolences to the families of the victims. During his trip, businessmen filed complaints about the extent of corruption in the local government, state media reported.
Raisi vowed that the government “would not hesitate to deal with the violators” and would “keep a closer eye on construction, especially high-rise buildings”.
“The perpetrators should know that the passage of time will not absolve them of responsibility and accountability,” he said.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also brought up the events in Abadan during his live broadcast speech on Saturday – a further indication of their seriousness.
In his first speech outside his hometown since the pandemic hit Iran, Khamenei warned of dire consequences for those who broke regulations and may have contributed to the Abadan disaster.
“Those responsible should be brought to justice, their punishment should be a lesson to others and similar incidents should be avoided in the future,” he said.
Khamenei also blamed the recent eruption of protests in the troubled Khuzestan province on Iran’s “enemies,” including “treacherous Iranians” abroad, who he said are trying to harm the country’s interests through “psychological warfare and online campaigns.” ‘.
Reza Pahlavi, the eldest son of Iran’s deposed monarch before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in exile in the US, took advantage of reports of growing anger in Abadan last week to call for the creation of a “united front against the Islamic Republic’.