'Their screams are still lingering in my mind' - witness to Hoërskool Driehoek tragedy

2019-02-01 14:32
Scene of accident at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark. (Ntwaagae Seleka, News24)

Scene of accident at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark. (Ntwaagae Seleka, News24)

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An employee at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark, said she was tormented by the images of the falling concrete slab, which led to the death of three pupils on Friday morning.

The employee, who could not be identified, said she witnessed the tragedy soon after 08:00 when pupils left the assembly hall to return to class.

She added that injured pupils were lying near the pathway, while the bodies of the three deceased were trapped underneath the concrete slab.

The concrete slab was above a walkway which linked two buildings at the 45-year-old school.

LIVE: Parents, teachers & learners gather to pray for all those affected #HoërskoolDriehoek

Screams for help

"I was walking from the kitchen towards the bridge when I saw it collapsing. I heard a loud bang and I thought it was a ceiling board falling over my children. When I went closer, I noticed that it was not a ceiling board but it was a concrete slab. I quickly turned back and screamed for help," she said.

The employee said she could hear trapped pupils screaming for help underneath the rubble.

"Their screams are still lingering in my mind. They cried, pleading for help. Oh! My children were fighting for their lives. There was nothing I could do. But I am glad and appreciate those men who responded quickly and saved the lives of some of the children. I am hurting inside and don't know what to say anymore," she said.

Two male pupils and a female died on the scene. They were aged between 13 and 18. 

"I quickly ran back and screamed for help. I can see the slab falling over them. I was afraid to go and remove the trapped learners, thinking it will fall over [them]. I can't stop crying. I heard that one of them has lost two limbs. I can't eat and have lost [my] appetite. I am praying for God to be with the injured children in hospital. I wish them a speedy recovery," the worker said.

READ: Parents pray at Vanderbijlpark school after three pupils die in structural collapse

A sad day

Following the tragedy, Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi shut down the school with immediate effect to allow police to conduct investigations.

The MEC rushed to the school after receiving a call at 08:10 about the collapse.

"It is a sad day and we didn't plan nor anticipate to have this kind of a disaster. We thank everyone who swiftly responded and assisted to rescue our learners. Unfortunately, the learners were walking under [the concrete slab] when it fell over them immediately after assembly. During the mayhem, everyone assisted the trapped learners," he said

Lesufi thanked municipalities who played a role in assisting the injured learners.

Twenty-three learners were injured in the accident - five of them seriously. They were all taken to hospital for treatment. 

"Two of the deceased learners were males and one was a girl. So far, one child has been identified. We are locating families of the two deceased learners to notify them about the tragedy. Two of 23 affected learners were handed over to their parents. The rest were rushed to hospital.

"It is heartbreaking to see learners and the entire school going through this exercise. We have to pick up our pieces as the department. The department has issued an instruction that no learner should not be attended to in hospital because of a lack of medical aid or funds. The school will remain closed with immediate effect," Lesufi said.

Condolences

He added that seeing the condition of the three deceased learners under the rubble broke his heart. Lesufi extended his condolences to the children's families on behalf of the department and the entire government.

Roads around the school have been closed and Lesufi requested co-operation from people in the area.

"For now, learners are not in a state to go back to classes. We will open an emergency centre in school where counselling will be offered," he said.

Police spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubele said an inquest docket has been opened.

Read more on:    panyaza lesufi  |  johannesburg  |  education  |  accidents
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