In the city of Abadan in Khuzestan province, grief and shock are now giving way to anger.
The collapse of the 10-storey Metropol building, the known death toll of which now stands at 14, is regarded as a collective tragedy. Hundreds of people flooded to the scene in Amiri Street within hours of hearing the news that one of the unfinished two towers had come crashing down during construction. Some were looking for loved ones and entreating God for help, others volunteering to help dig their fellow citizens out of the rubble.
A lack of resources and debris removal equipment has hampered the rescue operation. Dozens of people are thought to still be under the wreckage, and some may still be alive. But on Tuesday night it emerged that the authorities want to begin the demolition operation sooner rather than later. Social media promptly lit up with a hashtag, #takhrib_nakonid (#don’t_destroy), in which citizens appealed to the government not to commit “murder” by destroying the site too soon.
خوشا به #غیرت بچه های #آبادان— Hachal Haf هَـچَـل هَـفــــ (@hachal_haf) May 25, 2022
همه با هم در تلاش هستند تا آواربرداری کنند بلکه بتوانند جانی را #نجات دهند.#بدون_تجهیزات#متروپل_آبادان را #تخریب_نکنید.@pouriazeraati @IranIntl @SaeedHafezi631 @darushmemar pic.twitter.com/SXrRtA4IiO
"People are Buried in the Restaurant"
Sadegh is a resident of Abadan. He can't stop crying. "We are the most miserable people in the world," he sobs. “There are no facilities here. They have no equipment, no cutting machines, no tools for debris removal. By God, I want to go and set myself on fire in the middle of Amiri Street."
Videos posted on social media show ordinary citizens pitching in – and risking their lives in the process – to help the badly under-resourced Red Crescent Society in its rescue efforts. Some have been trying to dig with pots and pans. The pollution and dust in Khuzestan, Sadegh says, is making conditions all the worse.
“We can’t see even two meters of ground,” he cries. “By God, people are buried in the restaurant. The restaurant is in the basement of the tower. They want to destroy the other blocks. If they destroy them, all those left in the restaurant under the rubble will die.
Another resident of Abadan told IranWire late on Tuesday: “Today the special unit came and said that all the local forces, the relief workers, the people, the firefighters, the reporters, the cameramen, everyone, should ‘Get out; we want to do the main operation’.
“The ‘main operation’ means the demolition of the building. And do you know what the demolition of the building means? It means the deaths of all those who are under the debris. They want to bring diggers and clear the whole site while people are buried under it.”
Nothing to See Here
In the aftermath of the disaster, ILNA news agency reported that the Iranian state broadcaster was knowingly engaged in minimizing what had happened in Khuzestan. Peyman Jebeli, the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, was at an event at Sharif University of Technology on Monday. He told students there, ILNA reports, that he had been asked to limit coverage of the Metropol collapse to an hour or two at most.
The second Abadan resident who spoke to IranWire described what they had seen at the base of the ruined tower. “People are sitting there crying. A 70-year-old was crying, looking for his boy under the rubble. The whole of Abadan is gathered there.
“But the security forces are there in force too. They’re constantly checking mobile phones, calling reporters – you won’t believe this, but they even questioned the Tasnim reporter [an ultra-orthodox outlet affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards]. The governor told reporters, ‘Don’t announce the number of dead, just the number of injured.’ Radio and TV have been instructed not to convey Abadan’s grief.”
The same has been true of radio, Sadegh told IranWire. "A few hours after the incident, a [radio] reporter was sent to the scene. You could hear the sound of screaming and moaning and shouting in the background. But he said: ‘A few people have suffered superficial injuries.’”
Locals Unconvinced by Reports of Developer's Death
Even local broadcasters, Sadegh says, have focused their coverage on the mourning of the Abdolbaghi family. Hossein Abdolbaghi, the unscrupulous CEO of a huge construction holdings company that owned Metropol as well as massive tracts of land in Abadan, was said to have caused the tragedy by deliberately flouting the safety regulations. He did so for years with the complicity of corrupt local officials, and despite repeatedly warnings from engineers, experts and reporters.
On Tuesday afternoon ISNA reported that Abdolbaghi had died in the collapse. It came hours after he was said – by two different officials – to have been arrested, and by journalists to have fled the country.
Khuzestan prosecutor’s office then announced that an “identifiable” body had been pulled from the rubble, and examination of the “identity documents” had allowed rescuers to conclude it was indeed Hossein Abdolbaghi, followed by confirmation from police and forensics.
In the face of widespread rumors that Abdolbaghi had escaped, a local TV station broadcast images of his family bidding him farewell in the morgue. But such is the level of public distrust of “corrupt” local institutions that many still do not believe it.
“Hossein Abdolbaghi caused this calamity,” Sadegh says. “The images that were shown did not clearly show a face or body, and nothing was left of the clothes. I’m sure the family movie is fake too.”
His voice trembles. “Our problem isn’t Abdolbaghi now. Our little ones are buried. The same young people, who were supposed to come and hang out in the Metropol towers and the luxury cafes on Amiri Street…” He sniffs. “By God. This is Hell. It is a disaster. And they’re afraid of the people, of the funerals of young people.”