Demolition of the Metropol complex has begun in the Iranian city of Abadan, almost exactly a month after the collapse of Tower 2. Official figures now state that 43 are known to have been killed in the disaster and 38 injured. Others who were present that fateful day are still missing, presumed dead.
Ehsan Abbaspour, the governor of Abadan, reported that work to clear the site was getting under way on June 15. “In line with decisions by experts,” he said, “the work has been divided up and the necessary equipment, including a 250-ton crane, have been installed on Amir Kabir Street.” The operation, he said, will start at the top of the structure and move downwards, conducted by the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters.
Locals have raised fears that more bodies could still be buried on the lower floors of the building. At the time of the collapse, many of the laborers onsite were having lunch in the basement. A foreman told Etemad News that at least 150 people were working in the building each day, which was later corroborated by a food deliveryman.
“On the sixth day of clearing,” a source who has been present onsite IranWire, “a rescue worker shouted out that they should stop because there were still more bodies amongst the debris. Many people are still missing – passersby, workers, and from the laboratory next door to the building.
“Some of the workers were illegal and nobody knew they were there. This morning, they found another unknown corpse under a column. He was a laborer from a poor village in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province. His family didn’t know where he worked, so they hadn’t asked after him. Even his coworkers barely knew him; he’d started there just a few days before the collapse.
“They also brought a Pride car out from under the rubble with six bodies in it. The picture of the car is everywhere, but nobody is mentioning that the bodies were in such a terrible state they couldn’t pull them from the car. There are also some laborers from Minoo Shahr [a small island near Abadan] whose bodies have not yet been found. They have nobody to follow up on their behalf.”
The Bereaved Families
In Abadan, there is an abiding sense that it is not only the victims’ families who have been bereaved, but the whole city.
“I cannot describe it,” one resident, who knows several of the affected families, told IranWire on June 16. “The dust of death has covered the city. For the past 22 days everybody has had one foot in the cemetery and the other in mourning ceremonies.
“A few nights ago there was a gathering in front of the church. Hamid Jalilian’s mother, who lost her loved one under the rubble, was beating herself so forcefully that I wanted to die right there and then.
“I have known them for years. I’d known Hamid since he was a baby in the arms of his mother. When he was six or seven, he was very playful and sweet, and accompanied his mother when she was shopping. His father has an old taxi. Their financial situation isn’t great and they worked very hard bringing him up. I feel so horrible about his loss. May God grant forbearance to his parents, who have had to bury their only child.”
The extreme pain is, for some, giving way to thoughts about justice and accountability. Some families are considering legal action against those responsible for the disaster, and a number of lawyers in Abadan have announced their willingness to represent them and the injured pro bono.
In response, the head of the Justice Department of Khuzestan announced that a special workgroup had been formed to study various aspects of the disaster. “The judiciary is determined to take action against all manifestations of corruption,” the accompanying statement read. “It will take action within the framework of the law no matter who the person is.”
Behind the scenes, however, the two groups are not acting in harmony as they should be. One of the affected family members told IranWire: “When the lawyers who’d volunteered to help went to the Justice Department, they were told: ‘Forget about examining the case or suing anyone. This is a confidential security case. You’ll have to justt convince the families to accept restitution [blood money] so their complaints can be processed quickly.’”
When Islamic Republic doublespeak is not employed, the case has nothing to do with “security”. The collapse of Metropol complex appears to have been the result of collusion and systematic corruption on the part of municipal officials, the Arvand Free Zone, the building’s property tycoon owner and his high-level backers.
The people of Abadan are aware of this and have kept up calls for the identification and punishment of all the culprits. A letter addressed to the judiciary and posted on the website Karzar demands “transparent, public and just” investigations into the owner, his firm Abdolbaghi Holdings, Metropol’s architects and planners, contractors, supervising engineers, the municipality, Abadan’s water and electricity departments, and other officials involved to any degree in the building’s construction.
Government officials who visited the families at home, one person said, “took our pictures, and the videos of our pain and sorrow, and left. Now when we want to follow up on what happened, they won’t even let us into the governor’s office.”
Survivor: "God Grant me Forbearance"
In the days immediately after the disaster, a picture of a young woman buried up to her neck in the rubble circulated online. Covered in dust, she was holding a phone in her hand. The shocking image was of Fatemeh Ghasemi, who worked as a sales clerk at Metropol, and miraculously survived after spending 18 days in Golestan Hospital.
At the time of the transfer, Fatemeh was in a grave condition, suffering from trauma, eyes filled with blood, spine damage and kidney malfunction. She has since written about her ordeal on her Instagram page; though she had managed to regain her health, she said, she was devastated by the loss of some of her friends: Shirin Masoumi, Ramin Masoumi, Maryam Ghorbani and Nadia Kaabi. “Shirin,” she wrote, “the lovely bride, Maryam, the kind Ramin, my dear Nadia… May God grant me forbearance.”