Death toll at 23 in Casablanca buildings collapse

CASABLANCA, Morocco- The death toll after three buildings collapsed in Morocco's largest city and commercial capital Casablanca rose to 23 on Sunday, officials said.

Fifteen bodies were recovered from the rubble in one day on Sunday, including two children and Moroccan actress Amal Maarouf and her mother, local authorities said.

News website Yibiladi said the actress had continued to respond to calls on her mobile phone for several hours after the calamity but did not elaborate.

Medics said earlier Sunday that 17 people were still being treated in hospital, while authorities warned of more buried bodies.

Rescue operations were temporarily suspended on Sunday afternoon as emergency teams sought more sophisticated equipment, sparking anger from relatives of the missing.

By evening the site had been cordoned off and the media barred, drawing criticism.

"Search for bodies suspended, equipment deficient. Three days to notice it," the Economist newspaper scoffed in a post on its Internet site.

It was still not known why the three apartment blocks in El-Hank district collapsed on Friday.

Residents told AFP the accident probably resulted from "haphazard works" on the lower floors of the buildings, as well as a general lack of maintenance.

An official inquiry has begun, and the residents of three adjoining buildings have been evacuated as a precaution.

Firemen managed to rescue at least 55 people, including six children, after the apartment blocks crumpled.

King Mohamed VI, who happened to be in the city at the time, visited the scene of the disaster and the injured in hospital.

Casablanca has a population of around five million, with many living in squalid conditions in sprawling slums, some exposed to serious safety hazards.

Two people died at the end of 2012 when a building came down after bad weather.

The housing minister said at the time that between 4,000 and 7,000 buildings in Casablanca were at risk of collapse.