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Survivor recounts moment he emerged from deadly South African building collapse

MOSES Malala, a 34-year-old construction worker who escaped the wreckage of a five-storey building in George, South Africa, recalled the moment it collapsed and a cloud of dust engulfed him, as rescue efforts continued at the site 48 hours on.

Seventy-five construction workers, including Malala, were on site when the building crumbled on Monday. Thirty-six have been retrieved so far, including seven deceased, while 39 remain unaccounted for.

Malala survived with only minor injuries but said he is scarred by the death of a co-worker and unable to sleep.

“I see the dust coming up. Starting from the basement it’s coming up… then I’m starting to see the slab is cracking, sliding to go down,” he recalled.

“Every night I can’t sleep,” Malala said, adding he is thinking of the co-worker nearest to him who passed away. He has been returning to the site “to check our guys”.

Local authorities in the city east of Cape Town said that the rescue teams were in contact with some survivors buried beneath the structure. Teams searched the site with sniffer dogs.

A search and rescue dog rests in front of a building that collapsed and trapped construction workers, in George, South Africa May 8, 2024. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

It is not yet clear how the building collapsed. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for an investigation.

Alan Winde, premier of the Western Cape province, said more than 200 emergency service personnel were involved in the rescue on Wednesday.

“I cannot express the emotions I felt yesterday when the site would suddenly go completely quiet in the hope that our teams might be close to locating another survivor,” Winde said.

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Rescuers were met with applause when they pulled survivors from the debris, riddled with broken concrete slabs and twisted steel reinforcements.

Edna Nissi, 35, waits for news about her brother as rescuers work to rescue construction workers trapped under a building that collapsed in George, South Africa May 8, 2024. REUTERS/Esa Alexander

Edna Nissi waited for an update on her brother Charles Thangalimodzi, who is believed to still be under the rubble.

“From Monday we didn’t hear anything that he is out. We heard this morning that he is still down,” she said.

Friends and relatives of the other workers gathered at the site and sang, joined by local reverend Siyanda Sijila, who said the community had not experienced an event like this before.

“We only see these things happening somewhere else but now it’s happened to us,” Sijila said.

By SHAFIEK TASSIEM and ESA ALEXANDER

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