As the dust settles, devastation hits Mansoura after the blast

Osman El Sharnoubi, Mona Basha in Mansoura, Tuesday 24 Dec 2013

Witnesses describe scenes of destruction, grief and solidarity as 13 are killed and 134 injured by a massive blast that rocked Egypt's Nile Delta city of Mansoura early on Tuesday

Egyptian security and rescue officials inspect the scene of an explosion at a police headquarters building that killed at least a dozen people, wounded more than 100, and left scores buried under the rubble, in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013 (Photo: AP)

"This is a catastrophe," Mansoura resident and physician Khaled Abdel-Rahman told Ahram Online commenting on the blast in the Nile Delta city that killed 13 and injured over 130 in the early Tuesday hours.

Port-Said Street, one of the city's largest avenues and a lively shopping location which lies close to the Security Directorate targeted by the bombing, was entirely devastated. Dozens of shop windows and displays lie in ruins and the city theatre has completely collapsed.

"I'm at least 150 metres away from the directorate, yet broken glass from the building is cracking underneath my feet," Abdel-Rahman said, revealing the scale of the blast.

While it remains unclear whether one or more bombs caused the huge impact, the Egyptian military spokesperson mentioned that a car-bomb was involved.

Eye-witnesses told Egyptian prosecutors they had seen a truck drive into the security building's restricted parking area mere seconds before the explosion, reported Al-Ahram's Arabic news website.

However, Interior Ministry explosives experts say the cause of the blast has not yet been identified with certainty.

Another eyewitness told Ahram Online a small group of men claiming to be searching for a lady fleeing her husband had attempted to enter the theatre and adjacent bank (also severely damaged by the blast) but was prevented by guards.

The eyewitness believes the commotion they stirred by trying to enter the buildings aimed to create a diversion while the bombs were discretely planted.

Along with the theatre, the City Council building also collapsed. Two of the dead were pulled out of an armoured police vehicle that was crushed under the weight of the falling debris while two others survived.

Eight among the 13 killed were police officers – several of whom senior in rank – and personnel. The attack injured Mansoura's top security official, the Daqahliya Governorate's Security Director General Sami El-Mihi, who underwent surgery as a result.

Walls ripped apart from the directorate's five-story building and mounds of rubble piled up around it.

Charred, crumpled and overturned cars were scattered around the scene as security forces, clad in armoured gear, cordoned off the immediate surroundings of the building as prosecutors and explosives experts examined them.

Efficient hospitals, public solidarity

Maged Ismail, a Mansoura local journalist, said most of the injury cases were stable and that the three city hospitals admitting the majority of the cases were well-equipped and efficient in dealing with the cases.

"The medical care is excellent and many of the injured are staying in large hospital wings," Ismail, who visited the hospitals, told Ahram Online.

Ismail said that familiar scenes in Egypt where lines of injured men and women line up dust-filled hospital corridors awaiting treatment were nowhere to be found.

Al-Ahram's Arabic website correspondent in Mansoura, Mona Basha, said so many blood donors had swarmed the hospitals that many were eventually turned away once the blood banks were filled.

Ismail told Ahram Online that thousands took to the streets to help move the dead and injured and donate blood as many victims of the explosion required surgery.

"A sense of solidarity enveloped the city," Ismail told Ahram Online.

Whether or not they were on duty, doctors from across Mansoura fled to hospitals, Abdel-Rahman – who treated some of the wounded himself – said.

Abdel-Rahman and Ismail said most of the injuries consisted of bruises and cut wounds, yet some serious injuries included concussions and internal bleeding. Dozens required emergency surgery, they concurred.

Blaming the Muslim Brotherhood

Many at the scene of the explosion were quick to lay blame on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, ousted from power in July as the protests of masses of Egyptians nationwide culminated in the military deposition of Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohamed Morsi.

Hundreds chanted against the group in front of the damaged building, raising a picture featuring Morsi in a red outfit (traditionally worn by inmates expecting capital punishment) with a noose around his neck. Another raised a photo of Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, perceived as the national leader behind the move to oust Morsi.

"Down with the Brotherhood, Down with Mohamed Morsi," the crowd yelled.

Egypt's Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, speaking to reporters at the scene, said the Brotherhood was avenging the mid-August dispersals of their protest camps in Cairo, during which security forces killed hundreds of the group's supporters.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi vows to carry out resolute measures against anyone who jeopardises the country's stability.

Denying any connection to the attack, however, the Brotherhood condemned the explosion in a press statement from their London office, calling for an investigation and apprehension of the perpetrators of what it called "a direct attack on the unity of the Egyptian people."

Similar attacks have been carried out since Morsi's ouster, with the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis claiming responsibility for some of them.

Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis threatened on Monday the country's military and police of an escalation of violence, according a statement published on a number of Islamist militant websites.

Ismail, who spoke to the mother of an injured victim at the International Mansoura Hospital, said she lamented her son's suffering, wondering "What have we done to deserve this?"

The Daqahliya governor said the state would disburse LE4000 to each injured victim's family and LE10,000 to the families of the deceased.

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