‘Biggest disaster’ in George’s history


By Eugene Gunning

“Definitely the biggest disaster in George’s history.”

This is how Leon van Wyk, mayor of George, describes the tragedy on George which has already claimed the lives of at least seven people.

At least seven people died when a five-storey building under construction in the town collapsed on Monday afternoon. An independent engineering company has already been appointed to investigate the cause of this, but the frantic search for survivors is the biggest priority at this stage.

By Wednesday, 29 of the 75 workers who were on site during the collapse had been pulled alive from the rubble. Six of them are in a critical condition and another 16 are in a critical but stable condition.

Rescue workers were engaged in a battle against time on Wednesday: the more time passes, the slimmer the chance that more survivors will be found in the rubble.

At the entrance to the disaster scene, people gathered to pray on Wednesday morning. Families of the missing construction workers were also waiting nearby for any news.

In between the sadness, there were also the stories of the many unsung heroes, such as the sniffer dogs and their handlers, who play a huge role in helping to locate survivors.

Van Wyk told RNews during his visit to the scene that the disaster is probably also the biggest of its kind in the Western Cape.

“This is an incredible tragedy. Now we move on to the difficult part. So far, attempts have been made to get people who are still alive out. It’s going to get harder. It’s now been 48 hours since it happened.”

Anton Bredell, Western Cape MEC for local government, says as far as he knows, this is the biggest rescue effort ever on a building site in the Western Cape.

“Engineers say that when there are earthquakes, a building tilts and a part remains standing. Here the whole building collapsed.”

According to Bredell, it is an extremely large operation to remove the concrete and also protect the workers who perform this dangerous task.

Add to this the trauma of the families who are anxiously waiting to hear if they might get good news today.

Bredell said he was satisfied with the course of the operation and, like Western Cape Prime Minister Alan Winde earlier, expressed his gratitude to everyone involved.

“The events have shown once again that South Africans can stand together.”

More experts, who specialize in the demolition of buildings, will now be involved. At this stage, however, the focus is on the search for those who are still trapped.

Neighboring municipalities will also make workers available to replace some of the current group of rescue workers.

Unsung heroes

Meanwhile, the search continues and that the dog is a person’s best friend has been proven anew since Monday.

Dogs and their handlers from the police’s canine unit in the Western and Eastern Cape, as well as the private company K9: Search and Rescue Association (Sara) helped to search for survivors.

In numerous cases, they played a decisive role in showing where people were still trapped.

A total of six dogs were used to show where there might still be any sign of life. Among the dogs used were Echo, Bond and Dina.

Ao. Rocco Malherbe, attached to the George Police canine unit, said the dogs were searching for survivors. However, it must also be borne in mind that this is an unsafe site.

It is a complicated operation and one for which they have to think on their feet as circumstances change.

Mari-Ann Wilson from Sara also describes the operation as challenging, but says the dogs are doing excellently.

Chance of survival even slimmer

The search for survivors is now in its third day and there is growing concern as to whether anyone will still be pulled from the rubble alive.

Moses Malala, a foreman who survived the collapse, told AFP he heard a loud noise before the building simply gave way. Malala was working on the roof and recounted how his feet began to slip as the building began to tumble on one side. He saw several of his colleagues tumble down one after the other. Many of them are still pinned under the construction debris.

Malala was injured, but at least made it out alive – and in the meantime he is helping where he can with the rescue effort.

The next few hours are likely to be particularly critical: the chance of survival drops significantly after 72 hours under these conditions.

The building, which collapsed on Monday around 14:00, was supposed to be an apartment block with 42 units. On Tuesday evening there was cheering when a survivor was brought out of the rubble and loaded onto a stretcher. Another body was brought out, wrapped in a blanket.

Faith leaders and social workers have recently been on the scene to comfort bereaved family members. People also sang and prayed while waiting for any news about their loved ones.

Additional source: AFP