KARBALA, Iraq: The bodies of two pilgrims were pulled from an Iraqi shrine Monday, two days after its partial collapse in a landslide, taking the overall toll to seven dead, rescuers said.
Emergency workers were trying to remove the rubble and debris from the shrine known as Qattarat Al Imam Ali near the Shiite holy city of Karbala in cental Iraq.
“Unfortunately, we found this morning two bodies, a man and a woman”, under the rubble, Jawdat Abdul Rahman, director of the civil defence media department, told AFP.
So far, the bodies retrieved from the site were a child, four women and two men, while three children had been rescued and rushed to hospital.
“We are continuing the search for other victims,” Abdul Rahman said, adding eyewitnesses had reported that there was another body, of a woman, still under the rubble.
Civil defence spokesman Nawas Sabah Shaker had said on Sunday that between six and eight pilgrims had been reported trapped under the debris of the shrine, near the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
The three children rescued earlier were in “good condition” and being monitored in a hospital, emergency services had said on Sunday.
Search and rescue operations have been carried out since the shrine, which sits at the base of high, bare rock walls, became partially buried when earthen embankments collapsed on Saturday due to saturation from humidity, according to the civil defence.
Anger over tragedy
It is the latest tragedy to befall oil-rich but poverty-stricken Iraq, which is trying to move past decades of war but is hobbled by political paralysis, endemic corruption and other challenges.
Anger has erupted at officials as grieving locals demanded an explanation.
“We want to know what happened, why it happened,” said Bassem Khazali, whose nephew was among the victims.
Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr meanwhile railed against “suspected corruption that caused civilian deaths”, in a tweet Sunday evening.
But Iraq’s Shiite waqf, which is responsible for administering Shiite properties in the country, said in a statement that it did not manage the shrine nor the land on which it was built.
“The shrine does not belong to a known party, but to individuals who have been summoned” for questioning, Karbala governor Nassif Al Khatabi wrote on Facebook, without providing further detail.
Rescuers on Sunday drove a bulldozer through the shrine’s entrance, which resembles half a dome ornately decorated with blue tiles covered in Arabic script.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh had called on rescue workers to “mobilise all efforts to save the trapped people”, while Caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhemi urged his interior minister to directly supervise operations.