Paramedics look for people trapped in the debris after a concrete slab collapsed at a mall under construction in Tongaat, outside Durban, on Tuesday night.
Paramedics look for people trapped in the debris after a concrete slab collapsed at a mall under construction in Tongaat, outside Durban, on Tuesday night.

Concrete slab falls on KZN mall builders

By Giordano Stolley Time of article published Nov 20, 2013

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Johannesburg -

All that mall construction worker Skhumbuzo Ngcobo saw was dust when a slab collapsed in Tongaat, north of Durban, on Tuesday, killing a woman and injuring him and at least 28 of his co-workers.

“Next thing all of us were down on the floor with the scaffolding and everything. I hurt my hand, my back,” he said from a hospital bed on Tuesday night.

He was three floors up on scaffolding, setting up bricks for the bricklayer to use, when the slab caved in.

He heard one of his friends calling and he helped to pull him from the rubble onto the railway line. They had not been sure what else would collapse.

“The only thing I could see was concrete rubble and they were taking people from under the concrete. Most of them, I thought they were dead, because that place was finished,” he said.

Paramedics said two of the injured were critically hurt.

It was initially reported that 50 more people were feared trapped, but the site foreman told rescue workers they may have already left for home, as the slab came down while they were knocking off.

Ngcobo worked for a sub-contractor. He had been told that four people from his company, which he did not want to name, were still missing.

Asked what he thought had caused the accident, the 24-year old said construction on the mall had been going too fast to allow the concrete to set.

“That job, they doing it and rushing it. They wanted to do a quick job. Finish that thing. That's the thing I think went wrong.”

He said that within two or three days of concrete being cast, scaffolding was being removed.

“I don't think that concrete was hard enough. They were building more walls on top of the slab, the top slab.”

Earlier, eThekwini deputy mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala said construction at the mall should not have been taking place.

“We took them (the contractors) to court a month ago. We thought they had stopped,” she said.

The municipality had approached the court because the contractors had not “followed processes”.

Ethekwini Democratic Alliance councillor Brian Jaganathan said plans for the mall's construction started in 2010, when several people were forced to move from their homes to make way for the development.

“I found out that in 2010 no plans had been passed. In 2012, they started building and during the last month they were working at a high pace.”

He questioned why building had been allowed to continue despite the court order.

Lubabalo Ntanze, whose legs were injured, said he was laying bricks when the scaffolding underneath him gave way.

“I thought I was going to be dying when that wall came down,” he said, also from hospital.

Thomas Miendo, 27, a bricklayer, broke his arm and bruised his leg in a three-storey fall from the scaffolding. He had heard a noise. “I thought the slab was falling down. I tried to escape, but I fell.”

It was when he tried to get up, that he discovered his arm was broken.

“Some of them (the other injured) were crying. Some were stuck,” he said.

Sniffer dogs were combing the scene for survivors late on Tuesday night as rescuers worked by spotlight.

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said health facilities in and around Durban were on high alert to attend to the victims.

Those that were already seeing to injured people were coping well.

Premier Senzo Mchunu expressed his shock at the accident.

“We express our condolences to the family of the person who died in this horrific accident,” he said in a statement. “We also wish those who were injured prompt recovery.”

“Importantly, I am confident that all the relevant departments, such as the department of labour and eThekwini municipality, will help speed up an investigation into the causes of this accident,” Mchunu said.

Fiona Moonean said she was washing dishes when the slab collapsed, directly over the railway line from her home.

A few days earlier, workers had started removing the scaffolding supporting the level, she said.

“Just after 4.30pm it was a thunderous sound. Before the bang, I heard too much scaffolding fall. That's when I picked my eyes up and looked through her window at the mall.

“The whole concrete slab crashed down with the pillars. The smoke and dust was too thick. I heard them screaming out for help in Zulu.”

She called the emergency services and a woman took down her details.

“She had to calm me down because I was so freaked out. For me, the most traumatic is the sound of the guys' voices. That is the part that plays in my head,” she said. - Sapa

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