'It's so painful' - loved ones wait for news as officials inspect Denel blast site

2018-09-04 15:08

As a crowd of people gathered to wait for news about loved ones, officials were preparing to examine the site of the explosion at the Rheinmetall Denel Munition depot, near Somerset West on Tuesday.

Around 100 people gathered at the depot entrance in the morning to pray, sing and place flowers against the boundary wall as they paid their last respects to those who died in the site explosion on Monday.

READ: 8 dead in Denel munitions factory blast

The family of Jason Hartzenberg, 21, sobbed and held each other as they waited for answers outside.

Jason Hartzenberg, 21, who had been working at the Denel Munitions factory for just three months. (Supplied)

His aunt Marilyn said he had been working at the depot for just three months and was their sole breadwinner.

They were struggling to come to terms with what had happened.

"Dis so seer (It's so painful)," she said.

Rheinmetall Denel Munition official Norbert Schulze said they still had no idea what caused the explosion at the national key point at around 15:15 on Monday.

He said the blast disintegrated the building and it had not been safe to enter to see how many people had died.

Relatives mourn following the deaths of 8 people in a munitions blast at the Denel factory in Somerset West. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Cape Town fire and rescue services reported that eight people had died, but Schulze would not confirm the number of fatalities or those who were missing until they had inspected the site.

"It is not safe yet. We are looking at all possibilities; the falling stones, the rocks, the propellant, the explosives and the heat, which was tremendous," he said at a media briefing at reception.

"We will start around 11:00 today (Tuesday) to enter the site to see and look what has happened."

The building had housed a blending operation for five different propellants, used in artillery charges.

'We will do what it takes to look after them'

Schulze said there was no damage to any of the 400 buildings on site as there was distance between them to prevent a chain reaction in the event of an accident.

He said they had reported three incidents in the last decade. The first was a fire at the same site, which killed a man and injured three. The others were damage to a building at the chemical plant in Wellington, which caused no injuries, and a leakage in a tank a few months ago, which dissolved naturally and caused no harm.

"I can confirm that our safety measures are up to standard and we have not neglected anything on this issue. I am sure about this one," he said.

Monhla Hlahla, chairperson of the Board of Denel SOC, said the families were their first priority.

(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

"These are our people. They have families. We will do what it takes to ensure we look after them," she said.

She asked for patience and space for the investigation to unfold.

State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba said her defence counterpart was expected to visit the site later. She was also in contact with Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi.

"We are deeply sad about what happened here and we came here to give support to the families who are really traumatised," she said.

"They want to know what happened. They want to know what will happen tomorrow. We are also here to give support to the company itself, so we are able to carry the heaviness that is in our hearts together."

Read more on:    denel  |  cape town  |  accidents  |  explosions

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