Shock and grief overwhelmed the city of Abadan in Iran's oil-rich southwest, as residents and emergency teams were racing against time to rescue possible survivors from under piles of debris following the partial collapse of a 10-story building on Monday.
More than 36 hour after the incident, at least 14 people were confirmed dead, while dozens more were believed to be still trapped.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, a former military commander with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was on site to command the operations in person, the IRNA news agency reported. In his latest interview with the state TV, Vahidi declared that an estimate for the end of the debris removal operation was not possible. He noted that rescue was being hindered by fears for the collapse of the adjacent buildings constructed on similarly poor structures.
The high-rise known as Metropol was one of twin buildings meant to serve as a commercial center, which was only semi-operational at the time of the collapse. In the immediate aftermath, Saeed Hafezi an exiled journalist originally from Abadan, shared a video he had posted last year, in which he had cited supervising civil engineers about serious flaws in the construction, including apparent curves and liquefaction, with clear caution about an imminent tragedy.
"I cried out for over a year that the twin towers will collapse … And published evidence before the completion of the project … But tens of my fellow citizens are now trapped under the debris," Hafezi wrote in a new tweet, blaming the tragedy on the owner as well as a former governor-general, both of whom he accused of corruption.
Several other accounts alleged that the building owner, Hossein Abdolbaghi, was a close associate of judiciary officials and men in uniform, hence managing to bribe his way through all the failed safety tests in his projects. Some also pointed out irony rising from one occasion, in which the owner was honored as a benefactor, with a certificate recognizing him as the "safe building constructor."
The Abadan tragedy also rehashed memories of the Plasco building, which burned in massive flames and collapsed entirely before the eyes of panicked spectators in the capital Tehran. Five years into the incident, that left 20 people dead, no formal proceedings have been launched, despite evidence implicating authorities, who had allegedly disregarded formal safety warnings.
One day after the Abadan tragedy, the Iranian judiciary announced several arrests, including that of the city's mayor, seen earlier chased by angry crowds at the site of the collapse. The judiciary added, however, that Abdolbaghi, the owner, had been confirmed as one of the victims of the collapse, retracting an initial statement that he was under arrest.
The apparent confusion fueled theories from some journalists and ordinary Iranians, who alleged that the authorities were attempting to whitewash the entire episode by providing the owner a safe exit from the country. The arguments dug into past examples, including that of Mahmoud Reza Khavari, an influential director of Iran's largest bank, who is now based in Canada after skipping prosecution over the biggest known embezzlement case in Iranian history.
"The issue should not be reduced to individuals, like Abdolbaghi [the owner]," one Iranian tweeted. "Thousands of such buildings are being constructed … It is about corruption, a systemic one, it is about the way the country is being run."