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CONSTRUCTION SITE DISASTER

George ‘national calamity’ building collapse death toll rises to 12 — Winde hails efforts of tireless teams

George ‘national calamity’ building collapse death toll rises to 12 — Winde hails efforts of tireless teams
A person reacts during a prayer service, near the site of a building that collapsed in George, South Africa May 7, 2024. REUTERS/Esa Alexander TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The latest tally at the disintegrated five-storey building in George had 12 people confirmed dead on Friday. Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla described the incident as a ‘national calamity’ during a visit to hospitals that were treating survivors.

The death toll in the collapse of a five-storey building in George increased to 12 on Friday 10 May, as search and rescue entered the fourth day. On Friday morning, three deceased people were retrieved from the rubble, announced Anton Bredell, MEC for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, during a press briefing in the afternoon. 

“There are 41 unaccounted for, 40 people have been rescued and unfortunately, 12 are deceased,” he said. 

The briefing was also joined by Premier Alan Winde, the Disaster Management teams and Western Cape Police Commissioner, Lieutenant General Thembisile Patekile. 

Winde said, “This is an incredibly complex and delicate operation. Despite this, our highly experienced emergency and disaster management crews have been working flat-out to find the workers who are still trapped. If need be, we will further intensify our efforts.”

Kassie Karstens, hospital general manager at Mediclinic George Hospital on 10 May 2024. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Nearly 700 assisting on site

Since the incident, nearly 700 emergency and disaster management officials and volunteers have been working tirelessly on the site. 

Winde praised them and called them true heroes. “We are immensely grateful for all you are doing in this very difficult time,” reiterated the premier. “That is what I admire the most about our Western Cape residents — when incidents of this nature occur, everyone comes together and steps up. You are all extraordinary.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: George residents champion the ‘superdogs’ searching for survivors of building collapse

Authorities did not want to reveal more information about the various investigations as they were all in the initial stages. 

Daily Maverick reported on Thursday that consulting engineer Athol Mitchell, who signed off on the plans for the ill-fated 75 Victoria project in George, had been found after initially being reported missing.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Consulting engineer who signed off plans for collapsed George building reported missing — later found

Identifying victims

Day four of the rescue response saw the teams using demolition equipment to lift the concrete slabs obstructing access to the lower floors of the building site. 

“The decision to switch to using heavy-duty demolition equipment is not taken lightly. The demolition company has created a safe path to drive on over the site, filling in voids that have been thoroughly checked for any entrapped victims. Rescue techniques continue to be applied meticulously and sensitively at each phase,” stated the Garden Route District Joint Operational Centre.

As more bodies are expected to be retrieved in the coming days, Patekile said their forensic teams are prepared for any eventualities. 

“Regarding the DNA and forensic lab, we do not have any challenges anymore,” he said. “The challenges that were there, we sorted them long ago. As you might recall, the Western Cape forensic lab was also supporting the Eastern Cape one; subsequent to that, the SAPS Eastern Cape lab was opened.” 

He said the only challenge that would cause delays would be to collect DNA samples from relatives if deceased victims cannot be identified by simply viewing them. 

Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla outside Mediclinic George Hospital on 10 May 2024. (Photo: Tamsin Metelerkamp)

Health Minister visits survivors

Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla and Western Cape MEC for Health Dr Nomafrench Mbombo visited survivors of the George building collapse in local hospitals on Friday. Speaking outside Mediclinic George Hospital, Phaahla described the tragedy as a “national calamity”.

“We are here because of the fact that what has happened here in George… we regard as a national disaster,” said Phaahla, adding that he was grateful that local private hospital Mediclinic George Hospital had been so quick to assist the state’s George Hospital when it reached out for assistance in handling the incident.

“It’s quite heartwarming to know that even private doctors… that were already busy with their operations, or just about to start, agreed to postpone those operations and all assembled to look after the emergencies that very first day,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Hope is fading’ — families of workers missing after George building collapse voice their fears

Phaahla said that most of the injuries among those recovering at the hospitals were traumatic injuries related to rubble and concrete that had fallen on them. 

“Largely, it’s broken bones, including spinal injuries… They’ve indicated that some of the patients had internal organ [injuries], like the liver damaged, broken ribs… One of the patients had severe facial injuries. So, it’s those kinds of multiple fractures and organ injuries,” he said.

Mediclinic George Hospital received 18 patients from the disaster site, three of whom are deceased. On Friday afternoon, ten individuals were still at the hospital, with four in the intensive care unit, while five had been discharged.

The hospital’s general manager Kassie Karstens said that one of the patients was going to be transported to Groote Schuur Hospital for specialist care.

“We’re very privileged… to be involved in this. It’s a tragedy in town — we feel for the victims and their families,” said Karstens.

“The moment we got the call… we just jumped in. We said: Send whoever you need to, we’ll look after them. We communicated with the George Hospital, we worked so nicely with them. It was so encouraging to see the private and the public sector work together like this.” DM

 

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