George building collapse: Rescue operations concluded on Friday

17 May 2024 - 15:37
By Phathu Luvhengo
The rescue and recovery operation at the site of the collapsed building in Victoria Street, George, in the Western Cape was concluded on Friday.
Image: Werner Hills The rescue and recovery operation at the site of the collapsed building in Victoria Street, George, in the Western Cape was concluded on Friday.

The George building collapse disaster will be remembered for its tragic loss of life but also for the brave and selfless work by more than 1,000 rescue, support and volunteer workers. 

“Today [Friday] we concluded the George building collapse rescue and recovery operation,” Western Cape local government, environmental affairs and development planning MEC Anton Bredell said. 

The rescue operation saw more than 6,000 tonnes of rubble removed while rescue workers searched for survivors. The operation lasted 260 hours, with personnel working 24 hours in two shifts.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde said it has been a difficult time since May 6. “But through it all our disaster management workers and volunteers persevered with the aim of saving the lives of as many people as possible. My condolences go to the families of the 33 victims. We share your pain and will do everything we can to hold those responsible for this tragedy accountable,” he said.

Bredell confirmed 62 people were on the building site when the collapse occurred, 34 were rescued but five of them died in hospital bringing the death toll to 33. 

Ten people were still in hospital on Friday and 19 have been discharged or received on-site medical treatment.

Bredell said though there were several revisions to the number of people reported to be on site when the collapse happened, rescue personnel had to work under difficult conditions with the information provided to them at the time based on information received from the contractor on site, the police and other external sources.

“I am happy we could revise the number of people on site down from 81 to 62, as it means fewer families are grieving,” he said.

Winde said attention was now on the investigation the Western Cape government launched hours after the incident.

“This was a devastating tragedy. We need to understand what happened and what steps need to be taken to ensure we do whatever we can to hold those who need to be to account.”

The operation saw a rescue rate of 54.8%, which Winde said was remarkable when compared with international statistics which indicate a rescue rate of 10% during similar building collapse scenarios.

“This is testament to the brave and professional work of our rescue workers and the result of years of investing and training in provincial disaster capabilities which are world-class.

There were many tough and difficult moments for our teams on the ground during this operation and I am proud of our team for every life saved. I know what it did for of us when our teams pulled [survivor] Gabriel from the rubble early on Saturday morning,” he said.