2 Killed, at Least 5 Trapped in Tel Aviv Construction Site Collapse

Multi-story parking garage gives way, injuring 23 in Ramat Hahayal neighborhood; rescuers manage to make contact with two trapped inside; efforts to continue overnight; previous incident at site believed not properly handled.

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A parking garage under construction in northern Tel Aviv collapsed on Monday morning, killing two people and injuring 23 others lightly to moderately, police said.

At least five more people were reported missing and feared trapped inside the underground structure in the Ramat Hahayal neighborhood, on the corner of Habarzel Street and Nehoshet Street. Rescue services managed to make contact with two of them, but have since lost contact. Two others were rescued from the debris and rushed to hospitals with moderate injuries.

The Foreign Ministry said that one of the dead was a foreign worker and four of the wounded were Israelis who hold citizenship in additional countries.

However, according to the Palestinian Labor Minister Mamoun Abu Shahla, both of the fatalities were Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shoafat. Several of the injured were also said to be Palestinian. Abu Shahla said that his ministry was following the incident closely, and that they see the Israeli government as responsible for the recent spate of construction site deaths.

The IDF dispatched search and rescue teams to the site, to reinforce the more than 60 firefighters on hand. A high-ranking officer at the scene told reporters that it was estimated that up to 10 people were trapped inside. The officer added that the large size of the site complicated rescue efforts, which will likely last late into the night. Rescuers were using cellphone trackers in attempt to pinpoint the location of those trapped under the wreckage. 

Police have questioned several senior officials with the companies that operate the site, namely the construction firm Danya Cebus. About two months ago, a concrete beam collapsed at the same site, injuring two workers. Police believe that the state failed to send a supervisor to examine the site after the beam collapse, and thus work continued at the site. The Economy Ministry, which oversees construction sites, said it has received no report of the previous collapse.

Rescue services at the site of a parking lot collapse in Tel Aviv, September 5, 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod
Injured evacuated from the wreckage in Tel Aviv. Credit: Moti Milrod

Danya Cebus said in a statement that the company shares the pain of the casualties and their families and offered its condolences. "At this difficult time, we focus on aiding the rescue services and we'll do everything we can to help the investigative authorities in their work," said the statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he was cancelling his plans to attend an Israeli national soccer game against Italy in order to visit the destruction site in Tel Aviv.

The initial report of the collapse was received at 11:24 A.M. The manager of the building site told Channel 2: "It started from a hole that opened up in the ceiling and stones and pieces of concrete block that fell. People began running away and yelling and running to places that looked secure," he said.  "Usually there are 90 to 100 workers on the site. It could have turned out worse. There were people scattered all over the area on all of the levels," he added.

A subcontractor at the site recounted that he spoke to one of his employees who was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. "But I had two workers who worked on Level -1, and we haven't managed to locate them. I am very concerned. No one is talking to us at the moment. I don't know what happened to them."

Moshe Levy, a volunteer for Hatzalah said:

"When I arrived at the scene I encountered injured people who had extricated themselves from the construction site, where a roof apparently collapsed on top of a parking garage. While we were administering first aid we received reports there were still people trapped inside."

Construction began in November 2014 on the 17,000 square meter lot being built on four levels, and the project was slated for completion by the beginning of 2017. Africa Israel won the tender to build the underground public parking garage next to Assuta Medical Center, but the project was carried out by the Danya Cebus company.

The Knesset passed a law a month ago entitling authorities to shut any construction site for two days where an accident claims a life or a serious injury. An inspector can fine a developer up to 75,000 shekels for failing to rectify safety issues, and construction workers are entitled to full compensation for days of interrupted work.

Lawmaker Eli Alalouf of Kulanu, chairman of the Knesset Labor Committee demanded that the government shut the site of Monday's site collapse immediately.

"I am shocked at the reports of the difficult incident at the Tel Aviv construction site. We have cautioned against such nightmares as that unfolding before our eyes," Alalouf said.

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