Glimmer of hope in George

Rescue and recovery efforts at the site of the collapsed building at 75 Victoria Street in George continue. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Rescue and recovery efforts at the site of the collapsed building at 75 Victoria Street in George continue. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Published May 13, 2024


Rescue operations at the collapsed George building site over the weekend have provided volunteering teams with a glimmer of hope despite the rising death toll.

Search and rescue operations enter a week on Monday after the five-storey apartment building collapsed last Monday with 81 people, mostly construction workers, inside. By Sunday evening, 21 people were confirmed dead, 49 were rescued and 31 people still unaccounted for.

The Garden Route Joint Operation Centre (GJOC) and municipality on Sunday said that the operations were “still continuing with new vigour” after the successful rescue of tiler Gabriel Guambe, 32. Guambe was trapped beneath rubble but on Saturday afternoon he was successfully rescued and admitted to hospital in a stable condition.

He has been in communication with his family and they were expected to be reunited on Monday.

Spokesperson Rowena van Wyk said Guambe’s rescue was “a result of the decision taken by the multi-agency command to continue employing a systematic rescue and recovery approach”.

“This rescue brings new hope and teams have found new energy to continue with rescue and recovery operations. The survivor was extricated cautiously and transported to the hospital after being stabilised by the onsite medical team,” said Van Wyk.

In a video shared by the GJOC, Guambe said: “Hello guys, I’m okay now. I’m okay. Everything is okay, thank you. God bless you.”

Van Wyk said the GJOC currently follows a stringent double verification protocol to ensure the accuracy of reported numbers, working in close collaboration with recovery teams, hospitals, and forensic services.

“Guambe, a survivor who was trapped under the rubble, wants to express his gratitude to all the rescue personnel for their relentless efforts.

He shares an inspiring message with the teams onsite, encouraging them to continue their dedication and hard work during the challenging task of searching for those still unaccounted for.

“Guambe is recovering well in the hospital, having, remarkably, sustained only minor injuries. He is doing extremely well, especially considering he went 118 hours without food or water. He recently had his first meal in the hospital and is in good spirits,” said Van Wyk.

Committed to the rescue efforts and adding to the hope on site while forging forward on Mother’s Day, EMS first responder Yolanda Avontuur and mother of three, said while it is a big sacrifice it was the “best feeling” knowing that she could make a difference in the lives of people who need her help.

“It’s the best feeling if you know you can mean something to someone. My family, including my husband and children, know that saving lives is my life. Today, especially on Mother’s Day, to be here and know that any of those victims have mothers ... mothers play a very important role in all our lives. It is a privilege being on this site today to know that I can mean something for the next person,” said Avontuur.

Rescue and recovery efforts at the site of the collapsed building at 75 Victoria Street in George continue. Picture: Garden Route District JOC

Police Minister Bheki Cele visited the site on Sunday and met the families of construction workers gathered in the George municipal hall where they are receiving support as they await updates.

Cele said teams on site were working “from the heart” and encouraged the public to allow investigations to take their course.

“Allow us to go with those investigations.

Any kind of pre-empting on (what) might have happened, will be wrong ... We know (the families) are waiting and are anxious but we will ask (for) space as we deal with the investigations.

The first prize now is to deal with those affected by (the collapse). From SAPS’s side, we can say investigations have started,” Cele said.

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala is expected to conduct a site visit on Monday along with built environment professionals and experts.

The GJOC has called for professional psychosocial support practitioners proficient in Chewa, Portuguese, and Shona languages to assist survivors and their families. Interested practitioners can contact Kholiswa Jobela on 078 210 5972 or Apolus Swart on 061 504 4205.

Cape Times