Emergency responders scrambled to find survivors after a building in the northern Israeli town of Acre collapsed early Monday morning, killing five including an 8-year-old.
Israeli media reported that police were investigating two possibilities behind the 2am blast that destroyed the three-story residential building: the explosion of a gas tank or foul play connected to an ongoing fight over an alleged illegal cellphone antenna positioned on top of the apartment building.
“I couldn’t breathe, I was really choking,” Mohammed Sa’adi, 25, told the Israeli news site Ynet after being pulled from the collapsed structure. “I was on the floor for about an hour, until my cousin came to save me.”
“The whole house we were in fell apart. The walls and the ceiling fell on me. There was a pungent smell. There were other people buried under the rubble,” he added.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) canine unit was deployed to the scene to search for survivors. Besides those killed, 11 were reported to be injured including three children.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that ten people were initially trapped under the debris, and that rescue workers had successfully extracted a baby who was not hurt and a family of four.
“Residents said the building’s top floor was uninhabited and that their landlord rented the space to antennae operators. Some of them had also complained in the past that the antennae are carcinogenic, and said there were prior attempts to torch them,” Haaretz reported.
The rescue operation was further made difficult by the narrow alleys and crowded construction in Acre’s Old City, populated largely by Arab citizens.
An Israeli Arabic news site, Haifa24, posted this video on YouTube of the overnight scene:
“This is a complex challenge. The teams are working under difficult conditions,” Police Coastal District Commander Haggai Dotan told Haaretz. “There is a high density of homes and thousands of people in the alleyways, but we understand their concern.”
Those killed were identified as Rayik Sarhan, 40, Janach Sarhan, 35 and their eight-year-old son Nassar a-Din. The second couple killed was Muhammad Bader, 43, and Hannan Bader, 39.