Tongaat Mall: site visit for insight into collapse

2014-03-12 00:00

A TEAM of engineers representing opposing parties in what has become the province’s biggest construction disaster, agreed yesterday on how best to extract evidence from the dangerous collapsed Tongaat Mall site.

The Tongaat commission of inquiry set up by the Department of Labour in the aftermath of the November 19 collapse that killed two people and injured 29 workers, ordered the site visit at the last day of hearings on February 14.

The purpose of the inspection was to allow for a methodology and area for partial removal of some of the collapsed slabs believed to be covering key evidence that will give insight into why the three-storey multi-million rand shopping mall collapsed.

Before their arrival, workers were on the site finishing off the erection of formwork to stabilise sections once connected to the collapsed part of the mall.

Engineers present represented the insurer, developer, city council, the designer and the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).

Mall contracting firm Gralio Precast — whose CEO is controversial Durban businessman Jay Singh and who is also the developer of the mall — is expected to hand the commission a demolition plan by today and it is anticipated that machinery will be moved on site by earliest Monday.

There will be no controlled explosion but rather the slabs will be slowly broken up and removed.

The process of extracting the material underneath the slabs will take up to two weeks before being sent off for laboratory testing.

Tony Young, who is representing the ECSA on the site, said it is vitally important that all parties involved agree to a process in removing parts of the collapsed slab.

“There is a reason why the building collapsed and we must minimise any problems we may face at a later stage if something is done inappropriately.

“It is in the public interest that the reason for the malls collapse is determined and what repercussions will follow,” said Young.

He said ECSA’s interest is linked to its responsibility to monitoring the conduct of its members and to make sure the correct procedures during the design phase were followed.

The inquiry is expected to resume on April 2.

Evidence already given at the inquiry has revealed that there are questions surrounding the quality of concrete used, that safety measures employed, the lack of clear leadership and possible structural flaws in the design.

During the first phase of the inquiry held in February, it became evident that Singh’s legal defence would want to pin the disaster on structural engineer Andre Ballack and conversely Ballack’s lawyers attempted to distance Ballack from any fault, in turn pushing it onto Gralio.

The mall was, according to the council, being built without planning permission and in defiance of a high court order obtained by the council preventing the mall’s construction.

This matter is currently being dealt with by the Durban high court.

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