South African rescue workers call off search for collapsed mall survivors

Company building mall violated court orders to halt construction

Emergency workers search for survivors after a building collapsed in Tongaat, north of Durban yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

Emergency workers search for survivors after a building collapsed in Tongaat, north of Durban yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

Wed, Nov 20, 2013, 14:03

Rescue workers called off the search for survivors at a collapsed South African building site today, believing there are no more trapped construction workers beneath the half-built shopping mall.

One person was killed and dozens injured in yesterday’s collapse of the three-storey building in Tongaat, 30km north of Durban.

“The entire operation has been stopped and handed over to the Department of Labour,” police spokeswoman Mandy Govender told reporters at the site.

Initial reports suggested as many as 50 workers might have been trapped under the rubble but rescue officials, working through the night with sniffer dogs, recovered only one body and discovered no survivors.

The cause of the collapse was also unclear, although district mayor James Nxumalo said local authorities had obtained a series of court injunctions, the latest on November 14th, to halt construction.

“It looks like the company violated all of those court orders and now this tragedy happened,” he told Talk Radio 702.

The owner of the site has been identified as a South African businessman of Indian descent who is well-known in Durban, the second-largest city in South Africa and home to a large ethnic Indian population.

If safety regulations are found to have been flouted, the accident could hurt the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as it moves toward an election next year.

Durban and the surrounding province of KwaZulu-Natal are also the home of 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.

The ANC is expected to win the election expected in April or May next year but its share of the vote is likely to drop as young post-apartheid South Africans with no knowledge of white-minority rule come of age.

Reuters