One dead, 50 feared trapped in S. Africa mall collapse

One dead, 50 feared trapped in S. Africa mall collapse

TONGAAT, South Africa - Hundreds of rescuers worked into the night searching for survivors in the rubble of a half-built mall that collapsed near the South African city of Durban Tuesday, killing one person and injuring dozens.

Police spokeswoman Mandy Govender said one person was confirmed dead and 26 people had been pulled from the debris after the roof of the mall collapsed.

"It was a mall building still under construction," said Govender. "Most of those still trapped inside the building were construction workers."

Emergency response company ER24 said that one person was airlifted to hospital, two more were in a critical condition and 18 were seriously injured.

The area was lit up with floodlights to help emergency crews with sniffer dogs and specialist equipment sift through a large area of concrete rubble and mangled bars to find survivors.

"An estimated 50 are underneath the rubble," said paramedic Neil Powell at the scene.

"It's pretty dark now and it's getting unmanageable," he added. "It's a very big construction site, probably about 200 metres (656 feet) long."

Powell said most of the injured suffered "broken bones, multi-fractures and crush injuries".

"Some are in severe condition, others are mild," the paramedic said.

Heat-seeking equipment detected three "hot spots" where other survivors may be located.

Fibre-optic cables were being fed into the area to determine if anyone else is alive.

The incident happened at around 4:30 pm (1430 GMT) in the small town of Tongaat, around 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the Indian Ocean city of Durban.

Fiona Moonean, who lives across from the building site, was washing dishes when she heard a "thunderous noise" coming from outside.

"There was this sound, it was too huge, that I picked my head up - at that point I just saw the whole slab - that just came down and all you could hear was the guys screaming," she told AFP.

"The smoke looked as if somebody has put dynamite in the building, where everything just blows up.

"When the dust started to settle some of the guys started getting out and tried to go back to try and help some of their colleagues.

"The most traumatic part was hearing the guys screaming," she said.

Cheap labour means it is not unusual to see hundreds of workers toiling away at construction sites in South Africa.

The cause of the roof collapse was not immediately clear, but the construction company had been issued with a court order to stop work last month, the SAPA news agency reported.

"We took the contractor to court a month ago. We thought they had stopped," Durban Deputy Mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala told the news agency.

She said there were problems with the building plans.

An eyewitnesses reported seeing scaffolding being removed before the collapse, and there were unconfirmed reports of structural problems.

"At this stage we cannot comment on such (matters) as the police will have to determine such," said Crisis Medical managing director Dean Macpherson, whose team was aiding the effort.

Provincial police spokesman Thulani Zwane said a full-scale investigation into the accident will be launched on Wednesday.

"Right now we have given the rescue workers space to do their work," he said.

Search and rescue teams from neighbouring towns have been called to the scene to assist the local workers.

"They could be working throughout the night. It's a very delicate job and they are doing their best to reach those still trapped inside," said Zwane.

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