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Six dead and 48 missing in devastating George building collapse

Six dead and 48 missing in devastating George building collapse
Rescuers carry a person on stretcher as they work to rescue construction workers trapped under a building that collapsed in George, South Africa May 7, 2024. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

Recovery operations are under way in the Southern Cape town of George following a building collapse on Monday which has left six dead, 26 removed from the rubble and 48 unaccounted for.

As rescue efforts at the collapsed construction site enter their second day, 48 people remain trapped under the rubble. Authorities have yet to identify the developers responsible for the site.

Rescue teams are in a race against time to retrieve as many trapped workers as possible from beneath the rubble. 

As of 12pm on Tuesday, six of the 27 patients removed from the collapsed building had been declared deceased, while another 48 people who were present at the time of the collapse remained unaccounted for. 

Relatives and loved ones of the trapped workers were escorted to a waiting room at the civic centre, where they received psychosocial support services. As the rescue drags on, fear and uncertainty fill their every moment. 

George mayor Leon van Wyk said he did not know the developers, engineers and contractors responsible for the site, despite his office being across the road from where the tragic incident happened. “Unfortunately, I don’t know those names at this stage,” he told a Daily Maverick reporter. 

“I think we need to establish [the names] from the Department of Labour. I personally do not know.” 

Municipal manager Dr Michele Gratz agreed with the mayor, adding the current focus of the authorities was on rescuing the trapped workers. 

Van Wyk and Gratz were addressing a press briefing on Tuesday alongside Western Cape Premier Alan Winde; Anton Bredell, Western Cape MEC of Local Government and Environmental Affairs; Colin Deiner, chief director of the provincial Disaster Management Services; and Memory Booysen, executive mayor of Garden Route District Municipality.

“What I also have put in place through the director general… [is] already getting an investigation going. We have to make sure that while [the rescue] is happening we have got specialist engineers on site because we have to find out why this happened and how it happened. Of course, obviously the building goes through planning processes at the municipality level, and all those processes obviously were being followed, but… we have to find out exactly why a building like this collapses,” said Winde.

“We have to make sure that no stone will be left unturned.”

Rescue effort

Various rescue teams are involved in the operation in George, including teams from the City of Cape Town, Breedevallei tech rescue, Search and Rescue South Africa (Sarza), the South African Police Service and nonprofit Gift of the Givers. There are currently about 111 professionals on site, according to Winde.

Speaking on yesterday’s rescue efforts, Deiner said, “We were actually hearing people shouting through the rubble, so that was the first point. And then the dogs come in and the dogs do a verification. Once the dogs have verified that there’s somebody, we have high-tech equipment that we can actually start triangulating and pinpointing where someone is trapped.”

Deiner explained that the international standard for the length of this type of rescue effort is 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. 

“We’ll make a call after three days [of] where we stand… We’re going to give the absolute maximum time to see how many people we can rescue.”

The rescuers are currently in contact with 11 people beneath the rubble, including four who are trapped in a basement area. Deiner estimated that it would take most of the day to rescue the people trapped in the basement.

Later in the day, the rescue teams will start a process of “delayering”, he continued. “That would mean that we would then start lifting the different floors off each other, and the reason we do that is that there’s a possibility that people could still be alive…”

Community support

As the rescue teams diligently worked through the rubble, community members continued to show their support by bringing an abundance of snacks and refreshments, generously sharing words of encouragement and offering heartfelt prayers for the safety and well-being of those involved in the rescue operation.

Update from Monday

Workers are being freed from a collapsed building in George with help from emergency services from as far as Worcester and the Gift of the Givers. 

building collapse george

Emergency services and police at the site, trying to free trapped workers. (Photo: Supplied)

building collapse george

This building under construction collapsed in George, Western Cape, trapping workers. (Photo: Supplied)

building collapse george

This is the building that collapsed in George, Western Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

building collapse george

Dust billows after the building collapsed. (Photo: Stamhoof Brendon Torob Adams / Facebook)

Just before 2.30pm on Monday, 6 May, the multi-storey building collapsed at 75 Victoria Street. Emergency services have been on scene, trying to rescue trapped workers.

Gift of the Givers teams have been dispatched to the building, which was under construction. The building is privately owned.

building collapse george

The scene after this building under construction collapsed in George, Western Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

building collapse george

The debris after a building under construction collapsed in George, Western Cape. Emergency services are at the site, trying to free trapped workers. (Photo: Stamhoof Brendon Torob Adams / Facebook)

The Western Cape provincial government said Premier Alan Winde and his MECs were being briefed on the incident. “All the necessary support has been offered to emergency personnel to expedite their response. At the moment, officials are focused on saving lives. This is our top priority at this stage,” said Winde. 

The province sent personnel and emergency response support to assist with operations.

According to a George municipality update last night, 53 emergency personnel were on their way from the City of Cape Town and Worcester Disaster Services. Chief Director of Western Cape Disaster Services Colin Deiner will be on site as soon as possible.

Gift of the Givers’ representative in the Southern Cape Mario Ferreira told Daily Maverick the mood at the scene was “very sombre”. There had been some communication between rescue officials and those still trapped. The humanitarian organisations’ sniffer dogs were headed to the scene to help with operations.

Supplies

George municipality said police, ambulance services and staff from the Garden Route District Municipality were at the scene, which involved ‘multiple’ patients. The municipality has said people wishing to provide supplies such as drinking water, energy drinks and food could deliver, via Ivy Street, at 79 Victoria Street, Delplan Consulting. A municipal worker would be there to collect donations.

The DA’s constituency head in George, MP Mimmy Gondwe, said: “The DA in George would like to thank the emergency personnel for their swift response to this tragic incident and will keep monitoring the situation with a view to offering any form of assistance and support.” DM

This article was updated at 1.30pm on 7 May 2024.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Strange things happening just before this election makes you think ” sabotage”

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      The building looks solid enough before the collapse. Design problem? Looks solid. Construction problem? Cement? Soil?

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Is this possibly because of inferior cement from Nigeria, China and or India being used! A tragedy that our own South African cement companies are under pressure to close with massive job losses thanks to cheaper ( and inferior) imports! Ironic that being a BRICS country is destroying our cement business!

    • Mark Penwarden says:

      Cement doesn’t have to be inferior to break, it can be because of the mix ratios used, whether the cement is cured properly and then also design elements like whether the foundations were correctly built to withstand the load etc.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Hi Jane, we don’t import cement from Nigeria and only very small amounts from BRICS countries. The largest supplies to SA are Pakistan and Vietnam, with Vietnam accounting for 90% of our imports last year. Pakistan used to be the n supplier but has fallen away – not sure if it’s pure price related or quality and some dodgy certification from SABS, Last year both Namibia and Mozambique exported more cement to SA than China did, but still very small quantities.

  • Robert Pegg says:

    Fingers will be pointed but no one will be held accountable, which is normal for man made disasters in South Africa. The Marshalltown fire and the tanker explosion in Boksburg are 2 examples.

    • Random Comment says:

      The Life Esidimeni tragedy, let we forget, and the 144 vulnerable people murdered by our corrupt and apathetic State.

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        And the kids in the tavern. The list is fairly extensive. I read your post as ‘our corrupt and apartheid state’ at first – seems apt, given the treatment of those outside the ANC laager.

  • Spot on news with honest comments and content

  • Leon Schipper says:

    Plenty laws and regulations in South Africa, but woefully inadequate enforcement where it matters, like construction, occupational and road safety. All the BEE and EE laws don’t contribute to improved working conditions, but rather detracts from it. And thank you to Gift of the Givers, because as with everything else, it is up to the private sector and NGOs to fill the gap in service delivery, even in the Western Cape.

  • Condolences to all the families affected in this tragedy.
    A proper invistigation will be required in terms of the Structural Engineer for the project & the Occupational Health & Safety agents for the project.
    Only then a proper assessment can be released if it was material failure or human error.

  • John Patson says:

    So sorry for the people killed and hurt — go to work as normal and wham….
    What was the building going to be used for? No-one seems to know. Looks like a residential area, so could be a block of flats, but so far all we have is “a building.” Looks like it was built out of brick, and five stories is near the limit for brick buildings, in the US the limit is set at their 7 stories, 6 if you count European way.

  • Lynda Tyrer says:

    Health and safety regulations are not often adhered to in this country I wonder if this was “building on the cheap” using inferior materials, so many affected and a huge task for the rescue teams. Surely as the building went up there should have been checks done along the way by engineers ?

    • Belinda Cavero says:

      Building material shortcuts perhaps. And safety procedures most likely not followed. A government safety officer who visits construction sites told me he is regularly threatened to stay away. Very worrying.

  • Geila Wills says:

    The Lions Clubs of Eden and George, as well as Round Table have been on the scene assisting. They, and other role players are part of the George Alert team and have assisted with food distribution, as well as comforting the victims’ families. Lions International members arranged for generators and lighting so that the emergency teams could continue their search and rescue efforts through the night.

  • Stef T says:

    My heart goes out to all those affected, and for the families who lost a loved one. Once the rescue operation is completed, I hope an investigation will reveal the cause. Especially since people are quick to surface their own agenda’s and bias as if accidents like these only happen in our country or as if materials from other countries are under a blanket of inferiority.

    • Sean Venske says:

      The cause will be determined because we have brilliant engineers in SA. Whether the person/persons found to be responsible will be held appropriately accountable is the big question. Case in point – the Grayston Drive collapse. What happened was determined by the engineers but the people and organisations found responsible have yet to account for it.

  • Alan Salmon says:

    Tragic loss of life, almost certainly due to substandard engineering specifications and building materials.
    When are people going to learn that you cannot take shortcuts with multistory buildings. Shocking.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Was it a new construction, is not such construction required to be approved by qualified engineers…. was it poor workmanship. There did seem to be a huge number of workers on site too.

  • Random Comment says:

    “Construction Mafia” involvement?
    It would be interesting to see a list of employees and their dates of appointment.
    RIP to those that lost their lives.

  • Henry Henry says:

    “We have to make sure that no stone will be left unturned.”
    Unfortunate metaphor….

  • Daniel Mohakane says:

    The irony of the DA to burn the national flag in an attempt to warn voters of the possible burning of SA to ashes if the ANC-EFF-MK coalition could materialize only for the DA government in the Western Cape to ignore a deadly collapse of a building in George which could have been avoided if the officials acted promptly. Vote DA at your own peril.

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      Sorry Daniel. I’m going to bet that the developer is a BBBEE/tenderpreneur entity. Simply because reports are silent on the matter. If it was a major white owned construction entity, boy the outcry would have been resounding and the compensation queue would be a mile long by now.

      • Tumelo Tumelo says:

        Hello Rod, you will find that the developer, NeoTrend Group, is wholly non-black (white) owned. By just simply waiting for information and thereafter verifying the facts you may have gleaned this yourself. But once again these pages descend into racist troupes couched as gossip.

  • Dominic Rooney says:

    It’s literally incredible that the Municipality does not know the names of the developers, engineers and contractors. The fourth photo above (taken before the building collapsed) shows the builder’s board on the edge of the property.

    • David Farrell says:

      What’s even more incredible is that that the municipality would have had to approve the building and development plans for the site, so it’s quite remarkable that they have no idea who the developers and owners are.

    • Belinda Cavero says:

      Yes I wondered about that board, too. Let’s have some leaks to the media. Priority is getting people out alive though.

  • A Rosebank Ratepayer says:

    Notable that it appears that the entire building collapsed and it was not just a partial collapse. This suggests that as the building went higher critical loads at the lowest part of the building were exceeded at a certain point and instantly begun to fail, giving virtually no warning. (Hence the tragic loss of life and number of missing people.)
    Dynamic loads (falling masonry) are much higher than static loads for which the building would not have been designed.
    Obviously a proper enquiry is required and it is dangerous to speculate but the fault(s) will probably lie on a nexus of geotechnical results, structural engineering design, materials quality and contractors’ construction methods. Unlikely that municipal plans approval will be a culprit unless no plans were approved at all and the building inspector never stopped work as they are indemnified from all risk.
    Terribly unfortunate for everyone…

  • Kevin Potgieter says:

    Winde – “We have to make sure that no stone will be left unturned.”
    Seriously? A bit close to the bone?

  • Ina Loots says:

    Much too early to speculate about “Chines inferior materials”, BEE, construction mafia, etc etc.

    One cannot see from the photos whether the superstructure was loadbearing brickwork, which is perfectly acceptable provided the structural design is competently done, or reinforced concrete columns that supported the floor slabs. The photos do show that structure and brickwork was up to 4th level, with only the roof slab under construction. This implies 80-90% of the load already on the structure and foundations. If the roof slab was being cast on the day of the collapse (which we do not yet know) the additional weight might have led to the lowest columns being overstressed, particularly if an incorrect concrete mix was used and this was not picked up by the concrete test regime (a possibility, but unlikely if competent contractor and structural engineer were involved (which we do not yet know).

    The municipal building inspectorate should have all the names of Owner, Architect, Structural Engineer and Contractor, as part of the approval process. It is unlikely that a building of this size would have been ignored by the building inspectorate whilst under construction.

    Only a detailed forensic structural engineering investigation will tell us what happened.

  • Sandy Botha says:

    The contractors etc. are clearly visible on google street view before breaking ground but is also visible in one of the photos above so there’s no mistake. How they can say no-one knows who to point fingers at, I don’t know.

    Proposed future name: NEO 75 Victoria Luxury Apartments + website neovictoria and coza.
    NT NEOTREND GROUP / ICE Projects / RealNet George (R vd Walt 0609975266) + email

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      I smell a rat, the building was approved by municipal engineers but the mayor does not know the developers including the people who applied for the construction, what about taking a cell phone and asking the engineers?
      How do they know the exact number of people who were working on site if they don’t know the responsible people for the construction?
      Asking for names of the victims will obviously be a tall order.
      Are these the jobs promised on the campaign trail?
      The DA must clearly visit their good governance record this is definitely not good governance at all.
      The silence from government building inspectors is deafening.
      We are already being told of how good the rescue plan is, where is the best preventive plan?
      A million jobs in 5 years some say, next time we must hear a million good quality and safe jobs please.
      If this happens on a DA led city we can expect worse on the non DA led cities where corruption is the order of the day.

  • The priorities are to rescue all those trapped. I really feel for the families.

    In my unqualified opinion there could be three scenarios that caused the collapse. 1) Inferior workmanship. 2) Inferior materials 3) One or more of the supporting pillars in the basement caved in. Either through damage by 3rd parties unknown or unstable foundations.
    It will be interesting to see what the future holds as the rescue of those trapped must take precedence over collecting evidence.

  • I was born and raised in George but was transferred by the company for to Australia many years ago. Visited my hometown many times over the years but found odd businesses that caused the destruction of the town itself. Thousands of houses were demolished. Kerkhof Street where I grew up is now a business area. We lived directly opposite the cemetery. The Outeniqua High School is a fine and famous school. now just over 100 years old.

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