Two construction workers were confirmed dead after a parking structure under construction collapsed in northeastern Tel Aviv late on Monday morning.
Seven were still trapped on Monday afternoon and rescuers feared for their lives amid a frantic operation to locate and reach them. The search and rescue effort was expected to last through the night.
Three more workers had been trapped under the structure but were rescued after firefighters dug a tunnel to them through the rubble and sand.
Another 21 workers, both Israeli and Palestinian, were rescued or managed to stagger out of the site themselves in the first hour after the collapse, according to firefighters.
In all, Magen David Adom rescuers took 24 people to local hospitals, according to CEO Eli Bin. One of the workers was in serious condition at Ichilov Hospital.
While police said they were still looking into what prompted the collapse of the underground parking garage, according to an initial investigation, it appeared to have been caused by structural failure after a tractor drove across the upper floor. Initial reports that a crane had crashed into the site were incorrect.
People standing nearby said it felt “like an earthquake” when the parking structure collapsed.
Hundreds of emergency response personnel, including police officers, firefighters, medics, doctors and soldiers from the IDF Home Front Command, were called to the scene to rescue and treat the victims. Four IDF rescue dogs were also brought in to assist in the search, an army spokesperson said.
Access to the trapped workers was complicated as the four-story parking garage is located entirely underground. “Three of the floors definitely collapsed, but at this point the fourth floor is unreachable,” the police said on Monday afternoon.
The Home Front Command divided the disaster site into five sections, with the national search and rescue unit taking responsibility for two of them and the Ram, Shachar and Tavor Battalions of the Home Front Command each taking one.
The Home Front Command used cellphone signals to determine the exact location of one of the seven trapped victims, while the locations of the other six people “had been approximated.” Forces on the scene were working to reach them, the army unit said in a statement.
Hours after the collapse, the entire area was still considered hazardous. According to an engineering assessment, even the portions of the parking garage that had not collapsed were “dangerous and unstable,” the Home Front Command said.
“Several levels of the building collapsed. There’s still a danger of further collapse,” Eran Yehuda, spokesman for the Yarkon District of the Tel Aviv Police, told Channel 2. “I’m asking the public, the curious, to leave the place.”
A crane, along with a special sand-suctioning truck, had been brought in to remove the 250 tons of rubble from the scene, but there was still “a lot of work being done by hand.”
The victims were taken to several nearby hospitals, including Ichilov, Beilinson, Tel Hashomer and Asuta, the latter of which is located next door to the scene.
The hospitals opened an emergency hotline (dial 1255133 from any Israeli phone line) for families looking to check if their relatives are among the injured.
The incident took place on the corner of Habarzel and Hanehoshet streets in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hahayal neighborhood.
MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List), visiting Ichilov, said in a television interview that the injured came “from all parts of society” and are both Jews and Arabs.
“Thirty-two people have died [in construction site accidents] since the beginning of the year. This demands, now, a state investigative committee. We’ll fight for this demand,” he vowed.
Roads were closed to traffic in the area to allow emergency services easier access to the site, and police urged the public to find alternate routes that bypassed the area.