At least 10 people have been killed and 55 injured after a 10-storey commercial building in Abadan, Khuzestan province, collapsed during construction on Monday. The planned Metropol Complex was located on Amiri Street, one of the busiest roads in the city.
The head of the fire department reported on Monday that 100 to 150 people were at the site at the time of the disaster, with 80 thought to still be trapped under the rubble.
Relief operations yesterday were difficult and slow, with early photos showing volunteers clambering through the ruins alongside emergency services, cars buried under debris, and citizens of Abadan standing in long lines at the hospital waiting to donate blood.
Special forces and riot police were also dispatched to the city center in armored vehicles. An eyewitness told IranWire: “I was on the way to Abadan from Ahvaz when I suddenly saw a load of riot police cars speeding towards Abadan on the road.
“I thought the protests had started again, so I called my friends. They said Amiri Street was closed to traffic and that troops had been sent in to restrain the mourners."
#Iran #Abadan Metropol collapse— 𝕄𝕠𝕤𝕥𝕒𝕗𝕒.𝕄 (@MostafaMe4) May 23, 2022
Families are waiting for the civil defense to help people under the rubble. The defense has no experience in these matters. The regime gives no help to mourned ppl 😥😥#آبادان_تسلیت #آبادان pic.twitter.com/yLnoOIS6ar
On Tuesday morning Mehdi Valipour, head of the Iranian Red Crescent’s rescue and relief operations, said the known death toll had risen from five the previous night to 10. He added that search and rescue teams had so far found three people alive.
Then later on the same day, ISNA News Agency quoted the head of the Khuzestan Building Engineering Organization as having said the body of the building's owner, Hossein Abdolbaghi, had been identified as being among the 10. It came after conflicting reports that Abdolbaghi had either been arrested or been able to flee Iran.
“This is Abadan," wrote Saeed Hafezi, a journalist with local broadcaster Radio Goshe Kenar, who posted a video online showing one of the victims being pulled from the wreckage.
In a reference to the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, in which Khuzestan suffered some of the worst damage of Iran’s provinces, he added: “Still war, dead and wounded. But this time in a complex built on a base of [the] corruption of provincial managers.”
Flouting of Building Safety Rules Led to Metropol Collapse, Authorities Say
The governor of Khuzestan vowed yesterday that those responsible for the collapse of Metropol’s unfinished Tower 2 would be brought to justice. Sadegh Khalilian confirmed a key factor had been that safety rules had not been followed during its construction. He added: "The perpetrators of the accident will definitely be dealt with as severely as possible.”
Journalists, experts and lay observers had been warning of impending disaster on the site for years. A full 18 months ago, a report by the building's supervising engineer flagged up bending and cracking in the structure, and warned against plans to add another three floors on top of the original design.
فاجعه در #آبادان— داریوش معمار (@darushmemar) May 23, 2022
فروریختن ساختمان چند طبقه و نیمه کاره #متروپل در خیابان اصلی شهر. طبق گفته منابع مطلع چند ده نفر زیر اوار مانده اند. این ساختمان که توسط پیمانکاری #گروه_ساختمانی_عبدالباقی ساخته شده نماد رانت، بی کفایتی وفساد در شهرداری آبادان و منطقه آزاد اروند است. pic.twitter.com/iLPxaYEnKP
ISNA news agency also reported that engineers had warned Abadan Municipality about the subsidence of the main pillar and the sagging ceilings of lower storeys. But their token monitoring, and the municipality’s neglect, meant no changes were made to the design. Scaffolding around parts of the building, ISNA was claimed, was later intended to conceal the defects.
All the warnings went unheeded. The two-tower Metropol complex, a 45,000-square meter, “completely earthquake-proof” commercial hub with a medical center and multi-storey car park, entered its final phase of construction almost exactly a year ago.
بخش دیگری از #برج_متروپل درحال ریزش است!— SaeedHafezi (@SaeedHafezi631) May 23, 2022
هنوز تعداد زیادی زیر آوار هستند.
فقط امیدوارم فاجعه بیش از این نشود.
در ویدئو میبینید ستون اصلی سمت شرقی برج در حال جدا شدن و ریزش است.#آبادان pic.twitter.com/9JEEg0av6X
Hossein Abdolbaghi, CEO of Abdolbaghi Construction Holdings and the building’s ultimate owner, had told Khabar Online at the time: “This tower will be built to the highest standards and to the highest quality materials.” It was to feature two 10-storey towers with a glass bridge in between and glass elevators, each with a capacity of up to 40 people.
The radio journalist Saeed Hafezi was one of those to highlight safety issues at Metropol. On Tuesday he re-posted a video that alleged corrupt connections between the Mayor of Abadan, the Arvand Free Zone Organization, and Hossein Abdolbaghi. For these revelations, he said, he had received death threats against his wife and child.
این ویدیو را یکسال قبل منتشر کردم ولی حجم فساد در منطقه آزاد چنان زیاد بود که هیچ کس نتوانست از رشوههای عبدالباقی بگذرد و همه مسولان سند مرگ مردم در #برج_دوقلو_متروپل را امضا کردند.— SaeedHafezi (@SaeedHafezi631) May 23, 2022
به زودی نام تمام کسانی که امروز دستشان به خون مردم آبادان آلوده شد را دوباره میگویم.#سینما_رکس pic.twitter.com/5QpoozX9jL
Where Has the Owner Disappeared To?
There were sharply contradictory accounts of what had happened to the late building owner in the immediate aftermath of the calamity, and prior to ISNA's confirmation of his death on Tuesday.
Familiar sources described Hossein Abdolbaghi as an influential land baron and property developer born in 1981 who was seemingly been able to buy up huge tracts of government-owned land at low prices. His company website states that it was registered in 1957, though his father was said in 2020 to have been a lowly confectioner.
In the past two years alone, among the assets Abdolbaghi's firm acquired were Abadan Prison, a 50-bed hospital, the city’s Nakhl Hotel, a women’s bazaar and several thousand meters of beachfront commercial properties on the Abadan coast.
He had also won national entrepreneurial awards in part due to his close relations with the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters and the Ministry of Industry.
Media reports identified him as a shoddy land developer who got where he is today largely by building close relations with political and executive figures.
The Germany-based journalist Dariush Memar, a writer for Independent Persian, reported that a file on violations of construction safety rules by Abdolbaghi Holdings has been on the desk of the Abadan judiciary for the past three years.
The report, he said, also alleged malpractice on the part of ex-mayor and current deputy governor Mahmoud Reza Shirazi, who reportedly issued a permit for Metropol outside of the normal channels and in spite of it breaching height regulations.
He added: “This person is a known figure of corruption and graft in Abadan and Khorramshahr, supported by Gholamreza Shariati, the former governor of Khuzestan, who honored him with a medal for competence."
One citizen wrote bitterly of the Metropol collapse on Twitter: “Abdolbaghi’s cartel bought up the city and district managers from top to bottom. Today's mourning is the result of the collusion of government and enterprise.”
On Tuesday, the Chief Justice of Khuzestan, Ali Dehghani, reported that eight people had been arrested in connection with the collapse of Tower 2. He described them as “the owner and lead contractor [Abdolbaghi], and six municipal officials and supervisors”. The city's public prosecutor also said the "owner" of Metropol had been arrested.
Simultaneously, though, Abadan Red Crescent officials claimed that Hossein Abdolbaghi had been in the building at the time of the collapse and may be among those buried in the wreckage. The organization has since confirmed he is among the dead.
دادستان آبادان خبر از بازداشت #حسین_عبدالباقی مالک مجتمع #برج_متروپل داده.— SaeedHafezi (@SaeedHafezi631) May 24, 2022
نیروهای امدادی میگویند زیر آوار است. #داریوش_معمار در توییتی گفته متواری شده!
اگر دادستان آبادان صبح فردا ویدئوی عبدالباقی در بازداشتگاه را منتشر نکند، دنیا را برایش جهنم میکنیم.#متروپل_آبادان #آبادان pic.twitter.com/t3OOJLjSZ5
On Monday afternoon, furious residents of the city took to the streets to protest the widely-perceived negligence on the part of the authorities. A video showed them shouting: "Today is a day of mourning for poor Abadan".
The #catastrophe of the collapse of the ten-story "#Metropole" building in the city of #Abadan, #Iran— Arash (@arashcaviani) May 23, 2022
Angry residents reportedly stormed the municipality, blaming faulty construction for the collapse.#IranProtests #آبادان #متروپل_آبادان #آبادان_تسلیت 🥀 pic.twitter.com/BT2EVJZRui