South Africa: 5 workers dead, 49 still missing after a building collapsed

Rescue teams worked through the night searching for dozens of construction workers buried for more than 12 hours under the rubble of concrete after a multi-story apartment complex that was being built collapsed in a coastal city in South Africa.

Authorities said early Tuesday (May. 7) that the death toll had risen to five, while 49 workers remained buried in the mangled wreckage of the building, which collapsed on Monday afternoon. Authorities said a further 21 workers had been rescued from the rubble and taken to various hospitals, with at least 11 of them suffering severe injuries.

The collapse happened in the city of George, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Cape Town on South Africa’s south coast.

More than 100 emergency personnel and other responders were on the scene, using sniffer dogs to try to locate workers, some of whom were trapped under huge slabs of concrete that fell on them when the five-story building came down.

Large cranes and other heavy lifting equipment were brought to the site to help with the rescue effort and tall spotlights were erected to allow search and rescue personnel to work through the night.

Rescuers made contact with 11 workers trapped in the rubble and were hopeful of bringing them out, said Colin Deiner, the chief director of the provincial Western Cape Disaster Management and Fire and Rescue Services. He said some of them were talking to rescuers but couldn’t move because they had limbs trapped under concrete.

“It’s a very tough operation,” said Deiner, who was at the scene. “There’s a lot of concrete … so we think it will still take quite a while. The search operation will continue all day. We’ve got a lot of people on the scene but it’s really, really hard work.”

“So many people trapped in a building like that is like searching for a needle in a haystack. You literally have to break through the concrete and cut through the reinforcing.”