One Dead As South Africa Mall Collapses…Many Trapped

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Emergency workers search for survivors after a building collapsed in TongaatUncertainty still looms as rescue workers in South Africa are searching for trapped bodies in a collapsed shopping mall.

The workers with sniffer dogs have been picking  through rubble in search of survivors on Wednesday after the soccer pitch-sized section of a half-built mall collapsed, killing at least one and injuring dozens.

It was not immediately clear how many people might be still trapped in the wreckage after the three-storey building in the South African town of Tongaat, 30 km (20 miles) north of Durban, collapsed on Tuesday afternoon.

“We have no idea how many are trapped at the moment, but we’ve only got confirmation of three missing,” police spokeswoman Mandy Govender said.

Sniffer dogs had located one “hot spot” area where workers were using hydraulic rescue tools to try and break through slabs of concrete and steel bars, emergency services spokesman Chris Botha told broadcaster ENCA.

“It was just total chaos when we first arrived here.”

The cause of the collapse was also unclear, although district mayor James Nxumalo said local authorities had obtained a series of court injunctions, the latest on November 14, to halt construction.

“It looks like the company violated all of those court orders and now this tragedy happened,” he told Talk Radio 702.

The owner of the site has been identified as a South African businessman of Indian descent who is well-known in Durban, the second-largest city in South Africa and home to a large ethnic Indian population.

If safety regulations are found to have been flouted, the accident could hurt the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as it moves toward an election next year.

Durban and the surrounding province of KwaZulu-Natal are also the home of President Jacob Zuma and the region has enjoyed a construction boom in the last few years, based in part on government investment in infrastructure improvements.

Apart from one confirmed death, 29 people, two of them in critical condition, were rushed to nearby hospitals, which initiated full-scale disaster plans, health officials said.

A high death toll could also sour labor relations in the construction sector, which has an otherwise decent safety record due to the strength of South Africa’s unions.

The ANC is expected to win the election expected in April or May next year but its share of the vote is likely to drop as young post-apartheid South Africans with no knowledge of white-minority rule come of age.

Sniffer dogs had located one “hot spot” area where workers were using hydraulic rescue tools to try and break through slabs of concrete and steel bars, emergency services spokesman Chris Botha told broadcaster ENCA.

“It was just total chaos when we first arrived here.”

The cause of the collapse was also unclear, although district mayor James Nxumalo said local authorities had obtained a series of court injunctions, the latest on November 14, to halt construction.

“It looks like the company violated all of those court orders and now this tragedy happened,” he told Talk Radio 702.

The owner of the site has been identified as a South African businessman of Indian descent who is well-known in Durban, the second-largest city in South Africa and home to a large ethnic Indian population.

If safety regulations are found to have been flouted, the accident could hurt the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as it moves toward an election next year.

Durban and the surrounding province of KwaZulu-Natal are also the home of President Jacob Zuma and the region has enjoyed a construction boom in the last few years, based in part on government investment in infrastructure improvements.

Apart from one confirmed death, 29 people, two of them in critical condition, were rushed to nearby hospitals, which initiated full-scale disaster plans, health officials said.

A high death toll could also sour labor relations in the construction sector, which has an otherwise decent safety record due to the strength of South Africa’s unions.

The ANC is expected to win the election expected in April or May next year but its share of the vote is likely to drop as young post-apartheid South Africans with no knowledge of white-minority rule come of age.