KZN workers buried alive after collapse

Time of article published Apr 13, 2005

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By Latoya Newman & Carvin Goldstone

Two men died on Wednesday when a bank at a construction site at the Prince's Grant Golf Club and Country Estate collapsed, trapping them under 15m of earth.

Rescue workers battled for almost five hours to dig up the bodies from the excavation site on the North Coast, near Stanger. Emergency workers said the victims had had no chance of survival.

Police have identified 59-year-old Ramdin Harpaul, a foreman, as one of those who died. On Tuesday night the name of the second victim had not been released.

It is believed the bank collapsed after 9am. Workers quickly gathered, but had to wait helplessly for emergency teams to find the bodies.

One worker, who asked not to be named, said that when they got to the scene the men were completely covered by sand.

"Some guys rushed over and told us there were two people buried... we rushed there but there was only sand.

"They (the victims) had been standing on the foundation, almost as if they were in a trench about 2m deep.

"We believe the sand from the bank above them 'cracked' and when it fell the force was too strong for the scaffolding that had been put in place to block the sand. They were completely covered... under the ground," he said.

KwaDukuza Fire Emergency Chief Fire Officer Adrian Barnes said the bodies had been trapped under 15m of collapsed bank

"The workers were unlikely to survive after about five minutes underneath the bank," he said.

"Rescue workers found it difficult to remove the bodies and had to work cautiously, fearing that the bank might collapse a second time.

"It's a different situation if we are risking lives to save lives, but the two workers were already dead and there was a chance that the bank could slide (again).

"We had to use heavy-duty earth-moving machinery to try to locate the bodies," he said.

Police called the department of labour, whose inspector served a probation notice on the estate to stop all work with immediate effect until the site had been properly secured.

Department spokesperson Page Boikanyo said they could not confirm the name of the contractor at the site because by the time their inspector arrived, no one was available to give particulars.

Boikanyo also said that in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the contractor was supposed to have contacted the department for an inspection before the excavation begun, as it exceeded 7m.

"In terms of the Act they (the construction company) were supposed to inform the department that the excavation would exceed 7m, because (above this depth) there's always the risk that the wall may collapse, so there must be support walls," he said.

In such circumstances, officials would come in and advise them on safety.

"Contractors involved in these kind of activities should always contact the department so that they can be properly advised."

Prince's Grant General Manager Ann Robbie said in a statement that the estate would "assist wherever possible in the investigation into this tragedy".

A police spokesperson, Gugu Sabela, said police had opened an inquest docket.

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