Dozens trapped in South African mall collapse
TONGAAT (South Africa) — At least one person was killed and dozens were feared trapped under rubble yesterday (Nov 19) after a soccer pitch-sized section of a shopping mall under construction collapsed near the South African city of Durban, emergency services and police said.
Witness Fiona Mooneal, who lives across a railway line from the construction site, was standing in her kitchen washing up teacups when the three-storey building collapsed as though it had been dynamited.
“It was just after 4.30pm. Suddenly about 200m of concrete slab just collapsed all at the same time. The screams of the guys, above all of that mad noise, you could still hear them,” she told Reuters.
“It was like when you blow up a building, a bomb. That sound — it was terrible.”
It was not yet clear what caused the three-storey building in the town of Tongaat, 30km north of Durban, to collapse although Deputy Mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala said local authorities had tried to halt construction a month ago.
“There are areas of the law that they did not follow in terms of building of this infrastructure,” Ms Shabalala told broadcaster ENCA. “We were not aware that they were continuing building.”
If safety regulations are found to have been flouted, the accident could hurt the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as it moves towards an election next year.
Durban and the surrounding province of KwaZulu-Natal are the home of South African President Jacob Zuma, and the region has enjoyed a construction boom in the last few years, based in part on government investment in infrastructure improvements.
Initial reports suggested as many as 50 workers were trapped under the rubble, although officials later scaled down their estimates.
“There are about 24 people who are at this stage unaccounted for. We’re not sure whether they might still be trapped or whether some of them might have gone home,” municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng told Reuters.