Rescue teams pitch in round-the-clock

2013-11-21 00:00

SEARCH and rescue teams from the police and paramedics worked non-stop until yesterday morning searching for people trapped under the concrete rubble of the collapsed Tongaat mall.

About 100 rescue personnel both from the police and paramedics, including a team of four lecturers from the Durban University of Technology (DUT), were involved in the search.

Twenty-nine people were reported injured and one person was confirmed dead after the structure collapsed on Tuesday afternoon.

Non-profit organisation SA Can played a pivotal role in sourcing food supplies for the teams, with founder Brian Jones saying they required R4 000 to feed the group but ended up receiving more than double the amount thanks to a generous public.

Jones said he received a call from a friend who is a rescue member requesting that he bring him food as he had left his own wallet at the base.

“It hit me then that some of these guys might be in the same position so we decided to provide food parcels using the money which was donated by anonymous people,” he said.

Pietermaritzburg Police Search and Rescue Lieutenant Jack Haskins said their team of seven sniffer dogs and 13 officers worked from 5.30 pm on Tuesday until 10 am yesterday. He said it was a risky situation for both those who were trapped and for the rescuers.

“About 400 square metres of the structure was in rubble. It was a difficult mission and I’ve never seen anything like this in my 21 years in this profession. We had to mind the concrete slabs because they were loose and they could easily collapse and cause more injuries to the trapped. We also faced the risk of impaling ourselves on the steel reinforcers,” Haskins said yesterday.

Despite the difficulty, Haskins said the rescuers’ focus was on removing as many people as possible from the rubble.

“In rescue missions, the focus is on saving people’s lives and helping families get closure where there are fatalities,” he said.

The DUT team were brought in for their experience in international rescue missions.

Team member Travis Trower said they have been involved in rescue missions in Algeria and Haiti.

Netcare 911 spokesperson Chris Botha said the scene was horrific.

“The town was alive with sirens and people rushing towards the scene, causing more confusion.

“There were more than 100 rescuers, with the rescue itself being technical because of the concrete slabs and exposed reinforcement rods. The railway line also made things worse before it was closed,” said Botha.

Netcare spokesperson Martina Nicholson said five people were admitted at their Alberlito Hospital — three in a critical condition, one in a serious condition and one with minor injuries.

She said three more were admitted to Netcare Umhlanga Hospital. One was critical, one had serious injuries and another was discharged by yesterday.

The provincial Health Department said in a statement that injured people were admitted to Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Osindisweni, Victoria Community Clinic and Tongaat hospitals.

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