Maverick Citizen

BUILDING COLLAPSE

Ramaphosa visits George disaster site, promises support for families of victims

Ramaphosa visits George disaster site, promises support for families of victims
President Cyril Ramaphosa meets rescue workers at the site of the collapsed building in George on 16 May 2024. Also pictured are the K9 unit's Sergeant Makhosonke and, to his right, Sergeant Kotze. The President was accompanied by Western Cape premier Alan Winde and various national and provincial ministers. (Photo: Garden Route District Municipality)

During a visit to the site of the recent building collapse in George, President Cyril Ramaphosa assured the families of victims that the government would be transparent and supportive while investigations into the tragedy unfolded. Recovery efforts at the site are expected to end on Friday evening.

President Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in the Western Cape town of George on Thursday, 16 May where he visited the site of the five-storey building that collapsed early last week and engaged with the personnel involved in the rescue and recovery effort.

During a meeting with the families of victims at the George Town Hall, Ramaphosa said that the government aimed to be present “at all levels” to demonstrate its compassion.

“We are a government that has compassion… and where we have shortcomings – where, for instance, people who are in grief feel that there are certain areas that we are not paying due attention to – we’d like you to come forward so that that can be discussed,” he said.

“We are here as government, not just to grab any headlines – we are here as government to be of assistance.”

At 3pm on Thursday, rescue efforts at the collapsed building site had been underway for 241 hours. The number of people still unaccounted for stands at 19, while 33 have been confirmed dead. These numbers have not changed since Tuesday. 

Residents and family of the victims of the George building collapse listen to President Cyril Ramaphosa on 16 May 2024. (Photo: GCIS)

George Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks to residents and relatives of the George building collapse victims on 16 May 2024. (Photo: GCIS)

Rescue efforts to wrap up

Colin Deiner, chief director of disaster management in the Western Cape, told the president that rescue teams were excavating the last two floors of the collapsed building and that the last slab of concrete would likely be lifted by Friday evening, at which point the scene would be handed over to the SA Police Service for further investigation.

“We’ve started delayering the building, which basically means we are now lifting the concrete slabs off each other. It’s a very careful job because we’re working with huge machinery very close to potentially where people can be,” he continued.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Siphesihle Mehlo was a student electrician with ‘big dreams’, says grieving mother after George building collapse

“What we’re trying to do now is open up an area… we then drill holes in there and then we put the dogs on. If they indicate that they’ve found somebody, we will then treat that area quite carefully, put cameras in, try to pinpoint where the victim is, remove the victim. We then give the forensic pathology services a chance to process that and then we continue.”

On Thursday morning, the Garden Route joint operational centre said an estimated 2,500 tonnes of rubble had been removed from the site, with about 500 tonnes still remaining.

So far, 47 victims of the collapse have been linked with their families.

President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the George building disaster site on 16 May 2024, where he met emergency workers who have removed about 2,500 tonnes of rubble. There are 500 tonnes left to remove. About 235 hours have been spent responding to the emergency. (Photo: GCIS)

President Cyril Ramaphosa was briefed on the progress of the recovery and rescue efforts on 16 May 2024. (Photo: GCIS)

Support for families

Speaking to the families, Ramaphosa praised the cooperation between different levels of government, as well as non-governmental organisations, in response to the disaster. He thanked the representatives of foreign missions who were assisting with families from other African countries.

“We know that many of you are in grief. There’s no worse grief than people who have lost their loved ones… We are here to give comfort and there will be a need for… psychosocial support. And when that is the case, we will have people who will give that support. 

“There will be assistance for those who are in hospital to be well treated, there will be assistance for those who have to be buried. There will also be compensation that will have to go through the channels of our various institutions,” he said.

The site of the collapsed building in George on 16 May 2024. (Photo: GCIS)

President Cyril Ramaphosa at the George building disaster site on 16 May 2024. (Photo: GCIS)

“I want you to rest assured that we are going to do everything we can to make the situation a lot better and a lot easier. We don’t want to increase the burden, the suffering and the grief that you are all going through.”

Ramaphosa gave his assurance that there would be transparency from all government officials involved in dealing with the disaster.

The Western Cape Department of Social Development has indicated that it will offer trauma support and bereavement counselling to families in need for a minimum of six months. These services will be made available to both citizens and non-citizens, according to Monique Mortlock, spokesperson for Western Cape MEC for Social Development, Sharna Fernandez.

The Western Cape government’s employee wellness service provider will be providing psychosocial support to the rescue and non-rescue personnel who assisted at the scene. DM

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