South Africa ends rescue efforts at building that collapsed killing 33 people

An exhaustive rescue operation to find missing construction workers trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building in South Africa ended on Friday after nearly two weeks as authorities released a major revision of their figures and said they now believe that no one else is missing.

They confirmed that 33 workers died in the collapse of the five-storey apartment building that was under construction in the city of George on South Africa’s south coast.

Authorities in the city had said that 19 workers were still unaccounted for and believed to be buried in the rubble of the unfinished building that came crashing down on May 6.

But as rescue crews and other personnel finished moving concrete and clearing the debris on Friday, the city said that it now believed that a total of 62 construction workers were at the site when the building collapsed, and not 81 as it previously announced.

The conclusion came after more consultations with the building company, police and other new sources of information, the city said.

That meant that all workers were now accounted for: the 33 dead and 29 rescued, the city said. Of the dead, 27 were men and six were women, officials said.

The tragedy was one of South Africa’s worst building collapses.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa visited the collapsed building on Thursday to show support for the victims’ families, emergency workers and others who have been on the site for more than 250 hours, working night and day in shifts to try to find survivors.

Five of the victims were taken out of the building alive but later died in the hospital, authorities said. Ten people remain in the hospital.

More than 1,000 emergency responders, rescuers, volunteers and other personnel were part of the search efforts.

There were some remarkable stories of survival amid the thousands of tons of concrete that collapsed, including a man who was found alive after being trapped for six days without food and water. Rescuers said he had only minor injuries.

As the rescue operation ends, the building will be handed over to the national department of employment and labour to conduct an investigation into the collapse, city authorities said. There will be multiple other investigations, including by police and the provincial Western Cape government.

“This was a devastating tragedy,” said Western Cape premier Alan Winde, the head of the provincial government. “We need to understand what happened and what steps need to be taken to ensure that we do whatever we can to hold those who need to be held to account.”

Many of the workers were foreign nationals from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The construction contractors responsible for the building have come under scrutiny and the investigations will probe whether they adhered to safety standards. The building was due to be completed in July or August.


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