Ballito disaster ‘could have been averted’

Rescue workers tried to retrieve the bodies of five construction workers who were trapped after an embankment at a Ballito property collapsed on them. | Khaya Ngwenya/ Independent Newspapers

Rescue workers tried to retrieve the bodies of five construction workers who were trapped after an embankment at a Ballito property collapsed on them. | Khaya Ngwenya/ Independent Newspapers

Published May 19, 2024


Durban — Four construction workers were buried alive when a steep embankment on a building site at a home in Ballito collapsed on them on Saturday.

A fifth worker, who survived the incident, was rescued late afternoon and taken to hospital in a critical condition.

However, neighbours and some emergency workers told the Sunday Tribune that the disaster on Zen Drive could have been averted had more precautions been taken after the same embankment collapsed partially the day before.

An emergency worker, who asked not to be named said: “Two workers were trapped when the embankment collapsed on Friday, but their co-workers managed to free them. Our team members were called out to the site when it happened.

“The contractors did not learn their lesson and continued with work this morning (Saturday).”

Samantha Meyrick, spokesperson from IPSS Search and Rescue, confirmed that four bodies were retrieved after much searching.

SAPS spokesperson in KwaZulu-Natal, Colonel Robert Netshiunda, said the workers were building a retaining wall when the bank collapsed on them.

Construction work on a three-storey building in Ballito had been ongoing for about two years, neighbours confirmed.

The recent focus of the workmen was to reinforce the embankment in question. About 10 workers were busy setting gabion baskets filled with rocks in place to stabilise the embankment when it collapsed.

A woman who was on the property and believed to be the owner’s daughter said the family was not ready to comment.

Tom du Toit, who lives next door to the building site, heard screams at about 8.40am, rushed out to see what had happened and called out to the building foreman.

“He screamed back to me ‘the guys are buried’. I asked my wife to immediately call IPSS and jumped over the wall with a spade to assist.

“It was panic stations, the guys were all over the place.”

Du Toit said they began to dig near the wall and it led to a further collapse of the embankment and got everyone to dig closer to where the workers were buried.

He said the foreman encouraged the other workers to dig, but they were wary of injuring the buried men with their shovels.

They were also mindful of how they used the TLB (tractor loader backhoe or bobcat) because it had sharp teeth.

“It was a catch-22 situation.” By then the IPSS arrived on the scene.

“The first guy was uncovered after a while. An emergency worker tried to feel for a pulse but their resuscitation efforts were futile.”

Du Toit said construction resumed in November and the second level of the building was worked on.

“I was not present on Friday, but I am aware that a part of the embankment collapsed yesterday (Friday).

After the recent heavy rains caused a portion of the bank on the far end of the property to collapse, he said to his wife “there is going to be a problem here”.

“Now this has happened.

“I’m not a construction expert or an engineer, but I think with all the rocks being dropped at the top of the embankment and with the vibrations from a TLB that had been working on the site, it could have triggered the collapse.”

Du Toit said he also noticed that the workers were not wearing hard hats.

He had plans for Saturday, but he was happy to shelve his appointments to assist with the bodies so that the families could have closure.

A couple living across the road also confirmed that they also heard shouts coming from the building site on Saturday morning, but didn’t realise the seriousness of the situation until emergency vehicles arrived on the scene.

They too had put their day’s plans on hold and elected to assist emergency workers on duty.

The husband, who identified himself as Mr Kohrs, confirmed the embankment had collapsed on Friday, but was not as severe.

“On Thursday they delivered a pile of rocks that created a huge pile on the pavement.

“I think it could have affected the stability of the bank and the vibration from the bobcat (TLB) travelling up and down on it, I reckon it all contributed to the collapse,” he said.

Sunday Tribune