CAIRO — U.N. inspectors began Thursday to assess damage from the earthquake that rumbled through Cairo's stately historic districts, home to three-fourths of the world's Islamic monuments and now the troubling scene of leaning minarets and toppled marble.
The Egyptian Antiquities Organization estimates it will take at least $33 million to repair centuries-old grand mosques, madrasas and mansions that crumbled and cracked, a few to the point of near-collapse, in one of the most serious consequences of the earthquake.
"It's a catastrophe here. Every hour we receive a new phone call that something has collapsed," said Mohammed Ibrahim Bakr, chairman of the organization.
Among the damaged medieval monuments is the world-famous Al-Azhar Mosque, home of the world's oldest university, whose minaret is one of several that is leaning and in danger of toppling into the crowded neighborhoods below. The quake damaged 110 Islamic monuments, 14 of them seriously.
Meanwhile, President Hosni Mubarak estimated total damage at $150 million. But the toll continues to mount as damaged buildings collapse. At least 519 people have died.
Early today, rescue teams pulled a survivor from the rubble of a high-rise apartment building, 82 hours after the temblor.
Rescuers, who found Aksam Sayed Ismail pinned under the shattered building, also found the bodies of his Italian wife and their 4-year-old daughter, Samira, the official Middle East News Agency reported.
As government officials moved swiftly to find housing for the thousands of homeless evacuated from buildings that have collapsed or are only marginally safe, antiquities experts surveyed the damage to Egypt's historic monuments, whose attraction for tourists represents the country's single largest source of revenue and whose legacy to the world is without price.
Preliminary findings showed no substantial damage to most of the ancient Pharaonic monuments, ranging from the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza to the temples of Karnak, Luxor, Isis and Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt.
But in the heart of Old Cairo, in the first neighborhoods of the walled city built when the Fatimids, the dynasty that dominated western North Africa, first made their way to Egypt in the year 969, the picture is dramatically worse.
Along the old city's main thoroughfare, at least four elaborately carved minarets of mosques dating from the 13th- to 16th-Century Mameluke-era are leaning, as are historic minarets in the area.
Sylvio Mutal, cultural heritage adviser for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, surveyed the Islamic monuments Thursday after an appeal from the Egyptian Antiquities Organization for international help.
He shook his head as he walked through the narrow streets beside the grand mosques, where makeshift shops, ramshackle apartments and piles of garbage have already in recent years encroached and taken their toll on the old monuments.
A rising water table and sewage in the streets have for years eaten away at the foundations of the buildings, forming salts on the limestone that has eventually cracked and caused exquisitely designed marble and mother-of-pearl tiles to fall away from the walls.
Antiquities officials have tried for years to begin restoring the damage, but the effort has been plagued by poor planning, not enough money and a shortage of modern-day craftsmen to duplicate the exquisite works.