South Africa building collapse: Rescuers make contact with 11 survivors trapped in rubble

Death toll rises to six with 47 still missing after partially constructed apartment block in Western Cape province caved in on Monday

Rescue teams searching for dozens of construction workers trapped beneath the rubble of a five-storey building that collapsed in South Africa on Monday have been in contact with 11 survivors.

The death toll from the incident, which occurred in George, a coastal town in South Africa’s Western Cape province, had risen to six by Tuesday morning, with a further 47 people on site at the time of the collapse still missing.

Since the under-construction apartment block caved in shortly after 2pm on Monday, 28 people had been rescued from the ruins by Tuesday afternoon, the authorities said during a press briefing.

A total of 75 construction workers were believed to be on site when the structure of the partially completed building, which included an underground car park, failed.


Speaking to reporters at Tuesday’s briefing, Western Cape provincial premier Alan Winde said that everything possible was being done to expedite a very delicate operation that involved three rescue teams operating in three different areas of the site.

Structural engineers who attended the briefing said it was still “far too early” to determine the cause of the collapse.

Western Cape local government and environmental affairs executive council member Anton Bredell told reporters that more than 200 people are engaged in the rescue operation, and that they “are working as fast as they can” to reach the trapped workers.

He added that in one area of the site, two people who were trapped three levels down in the five-storey structure were able to talk to rescuers.

Rescue teams are in a race against time to save as many people as possible at the disaster site. Colin Deiner, chief director of the provincial disaster management services, said the scene would be treated as a rescue operation for three days.

“In other words, we treat everybody as still alive and we try and rescue everybody, so that’s what we’ve been doing,” he said, before adding: “We’ll make a call after three days [in relation to] where we stand ... We’re going to give the absolute maximum time to see how many people we can rescue.”

It also emerged at the briefing that officials had yet to ascertain who the developers responsible for constructing the apartment block are, even though the building site is located across the road from the George municipal offices.

Mr Winde said his office had launched an investigation into the tragedy, and that specialist engineers were already on site to try to determine what caused the building to completely collapse.

“Obviously, the building goes through planning processes at the municipality level, and all those processes were being followed, but we have to find out exactly why a building like this collapses,” he said.

Monday’s engineering disaster in George is already one of the deadliest for South Africans in the country’s post-apartheid history. The death toll is only surpassed by the loss of 85 South Africans in Nigeria in 2014 who died when a church guest house in Lagos collapsed.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa