One dead, five hurt in building collapse in south Tel Aviv

All the victims are construction workers buried under rubble; man who was killed named by police as Mahjina Assad, 55.

Remnants of a collapsed building in Tel Aviv 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Remnants of a collapsed building in Tel Aviv 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
One man was killed and five were injured when a building in south Tel Aviv crashed to the ground on Wednesday morning, burying the six construction workers in the rubble.
Police, paramedics and firefighters rushed to the scene on Herzl Street, at the corner of Wolfson, and were joined within the hour by IDF Home Front Command search and rescue troops. The rescue personnel looked for survivors in the building, which had collapsed except for the front exterior wall.
The building was a preserved building undergoing “Tama 38” renovations, which are performed in order to make buildings earthquake safe. “It was like an atomic bomb, you can’t imagine the noise,” witness Nurit Greenberg said.
Greenberg had just parked her car outside her upholstery store when the interior of the building across the street came down, masking the street in a cloud of white dust. Within moments, she said, she saw a man in his 20s covered from head to toe in blood and deep lacerations, crawling as three bystanders rushed to help him, pouring water across his wounds. From inside the rubble, she said she heard panicked men screaming “Allahu akbar [God is great]” over and over again.
The dead man was later identified as the building’s contractor, Assad Mahajneh, 55, from Umm el-Fahm.
Police had just finished interviewing Greenberg, and she said one officer had been holding a cellphone recovered from one of the victims. Greenberg said it continued to ring the entire time she was speaking to police, and that the officer told her it was the man’s wife, trying desperately to reach him.
Greenberg said she knew Mahajneh well and that he was a charming, sharp-dressed, middle-aged Israeli man who drove a late model BMW SUV and would say good morning to her every day when he came to work.
On Sunday, the work crew was using a bulldozer to dig around supporting beams and they may have caused structural damage, Greenberg said.
Another witness next door said he saw the contractor pull up and park his SUV outside the building, and waved at him.
Moments later the building collapsed and the man was buried in the rubble.
“It was like he came here to die,” the witness said.
By late morning, Magen David Adom had listed one fatality, one man moderately injured, and four lightly hurt.
They were evacuated to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.
Yiftach subdistrict head Supt. David Gez said police and rescue personnel shut off the electricity and gas in the building and began evacuating the victims along with Magen David Adom paramedics.
Gez said that the contractor had all the legal permits necessary for the project, and that once the rescue operation is finished they will carry out an investigation to determine what led to the collapse of the building.
Police have ruled out a gas explosion.
Yisrael Godovitz, a former Tel Aviv Municipal engineer, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that there are hundreds of buildings in danger of collapse across Tel Aviv, in particular ones that were built shortly before World War II.
“Before the Second World War the buildings were built very quickly, with very cheap products, without supervision and often without permits, and they are in great danger of collapsing while people are renovating them. You don’t need to be an expert to know this,” Godovitz said.
He said the city’s policy of not demolishing, but rather rebuilding or doing structural renovations on older buildings marked for preservation, is a recipe for disaster.
“Anything from 2.0 on the Richter Scale or higher will turn every preserved building or renovated preserved building in Tel Aviv into a giant sand dune,” Godovitz said.
Not enough work has been done on the issue and “people only talk about it when there’s a death, so until the next Herzl Street or Versailles wedding hall, we won’t talk about it,” he said.
In May 2001, the third floor of the four-story Versailles wedding hall collapsed in the capital’s Talpiot neighborhood, in the worst civil disaster in the state’s history.
Twenty-three people died and 380 were injured.
Last March, a three-story building, a couple of blocks from the site of Wednesday’s incident, partially collapsed, with half of the building sheared off and lying in a pile of rubble below. No one was hurt in that collapse.