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South Africa building collapse triggers complex rescue operation, dozens of workers missing

Cape Town, South Africa – Rescue teams trying to find dozens of construction workers missing since the collapse of a multi-story apartment complex in a South African coastal town have made contact with 11 people buried alive under the mangled wreckage, authorities announced Tuesday.

A man called his wife under the rubble of the five-story building that was under construction when it collapsed on Monday, the head of rescue operations said. This allowed rescuers to locate the man, although he was still trapped and had not yet been brought out.

Six workers have been confirmed dead and the death toll is feared to rise sharply. There was no news of the other 37 people missing amid the huge slabs of concrete and metal scaffolding that collapsed when the building collapsed in the town of George, about 250 miles away. Eastern Cape.

Drone view of building collapse scene where several construction workers are believed to be trapped in George
Drone view of the scene of a building collapse where several construction workers are believed to be trapped in George, South Africa, on May 7, 2024.

Shafiek Tassiem/Reuters


Twenty-one other workers were rescued from the construction site and transported to various hospitals, and at least 11 of them were seriously injured, the George Municipality said.

Colin Deiner, head of the Western Cape provincial disaster management service, said the search and rescue operation was likely to take at least three days.

“We’re going to give it as much time as possible to see how many people we can save,” Deiner said at a news conference. “It’s very, very difficult if you’re working with concrete breakers and drillers close to people.”

Deiner said it would take most of Tuesday to rescue the 11 workers rescue teams were in contact with, some of whom had their limbs trapped under the concrete and could not move. Four of the workers are in what was once the basement of the building, Deiner said.

“Our biggest concern is entrapment for many hours, when a person’s body parts are compressed,” Deiner said. “So you have to get them medical help. We got our doctors there as soon as possible.”

Deiner said it was possible there were more survivors deeper in the wreckage and that a process of removing layers of concrete would begin after the 11 located workers were evacuated.

More than 100 emergency services and other personnel worked through the night, using sniffer dogs to try to locate the workers. Large cranes and other heavy lifting equipment were brought in to assist in the rescue efforts and large searchlights were erected to allow search and rescue personnel to work in the dark.

Rescuers work to rescue construction workers trapped under collapsed building in George
A rescuer removes rubble from the construction site where construction workers are trapped under a collapsed building in George, South Africa, May 7, 2024.

Esa Alexandre/Reuters


Deiner said a crucial part of the rescue operation happened when they ordered everyone to stay quiet and turn off the machines so they could listen to the survivors. That’s when they located the 11 workers, he said.

“We could actually hear people through the rubble,” he said.

Several local hospitals were freeing up space in their trauma units in anticipation of being able to get more construction workers out alive. More than 50 rescuers were also dispatched overnight from other cities to help, including a specialized team responsible for rescue operations in collapsed structures.

Family and friends of the workers had gathered at nearby municipal offices and were supported by social workers, George Municipality said.

Authorities opened an investigation into the causes of the tragedy and a criminal case was opened by police, but there was no immediate information on why the building suddenly collapsed. CCTV footage from a nearby house showed the concrete structure and metal scaffolding collapsing at 2:09 p.m. on Monday, causing a plume of dust to rise over the neighborhood.

Rescuers work to rescue construction workers trapped under collapsed building in George
A family member of one of the construction workers reacts near the construction site where construction workers are trapped under a collapsed building in George, South Africa, May 7, 2024.

Esa Alexandre/Reuters


People poured out of other buildings after the collapse, some of them screaming and shouting.

Alan Winde, premier of the Western Cape province, said investigations would be carried out by both the provincial government and the police.

Authorities declined to give information about the construction company involved, but said that under city law, the private company’s engineers were responsible for the safety of the construction site until its completion. date at which it would be handed over to the city for verification and demining.

Winde said the priority was rescue efforts and investigations would take place after that.

“All necessary support has been offered to emergency personnel to expedite their response. At this time, officials are focused on saving lives. This is our top priority at this point,” Winde said.

The national government was informed of the rescue operation, Winde said.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a statement offering his condolences to the victims’ families and also called for an investigation into the causes of the collapse.

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