With dozens missing, discovery of one more survivor boosts South Africa building collapse rescue efforts

Rescue workers search the site of a building collapse in George, South Africa, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. Rescue teams are searching for dozens of construction workers missing after a multi-story apartment complex collapsed in the coastal city have brought out more survivors as the operation entered a second night of desperate work to find anyone alive in the mangled wreckage. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Rescue teams in South Africa forged ahead Monday with efforts to find any survivors still trapped under rubble a week after an apartment building that was under construction collapsed.

Their hopes were boosted over the weekend when one of the construction workers was found alive after six days without food and water.

Authorities said 26 construction workers who were on the site when the unfinished five-story building came down have been confirmed dead, while another 26 are missing, raising the possibility that the death toll could ultimately be above 50 in one of South Africa’s deadliest building collapses.

More than 600 emergency services and other personnel have been involved in the search for survivors in the wreckage of the building in the city of George on South Africa’s south coast, which collapsed last Monday.

There were 81 workers on the site when it collapsed, and 29 have been pulled out alive, the city said. It said 13 of them remained in a hospital without giving details of their condition. The city has previously said that many of the survivors were in critical condition when they were found.

The disaster management team overseeing the emergency response maintained that the operation was still rescue rather than recovery, pointing to the survivor pulled out on Saturday.

The man, who was identified as 32-year-old Gabriel Guambe, was in stable condition in the hospital and “remarkably sustained only minor injuries,” the city said. Guambe was trapped in the rubble for 118 hours, it said.

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His survival underlined rescuers’ hopes that there may be more people alive in what they called voids in the ruins of the building — areas where there are gaps between the concrete that might have allowed some workers to survive the collapse.

Rescue teams have been using cranes and other heavy machinery to move some of the thousands of tons of concrete in an attempt to reach deeper into the wreckage. Sniffer dogs were also being used and one was responsible for locating Guambe.

But the death toll has also risen steadily and at least five more bodies were recovered from the rubble on Monday.

Many of the workers were foreign nationals from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi and authorities were calling for translators to help communicate with survivors. They also said it was making the identification of victims difficult.

The Associated Press said multiple investigations into the cause of the building collapse were underway, including by police, who declared the site a crime scene. The construction company responsible is being investigated to see if it followed proper safety protocols.

People began leaving flowers around the edge of the site as a mark of respect for the victims, while the city and the disaster response team issued a joint statement asking South Africans to observe a moment of silence at 2.09 p.m. on Monday, the exact time the building collapsed last week.

Rescuers stood side-by-side near the collapsed building with their heads bowed to mark the moment before continuing their work.