November 20 2013 at 01:34pm By Daily News Reporters
Durban - The developers of the collapsed mall in oThongathi (Tongaat) had been given at least three warnings to stop building at the site, it was revealed on Wednesday.
It is not clear how many people may still be trapped under piles of twisted steel and slabs of concrete at the collapsed mall, where one body had been pulled out by Wednesday morning.
The slabs of concrete on two storeys, each the size of about half a football pitch, caved in on workers at the construction site late Tuesday afternoon.
Two women workers, who are sisters, had been in a bakkie on the top floor when it collapsed. One sister was thrown out, and her body was recovered.
There is confusion about how many may be trapped as Gralio Construction failed to provide a list of names for the workers.
The Department of Labour had started investigations on Wednesday morning and took over the scene. Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant was expected to brief media at the site later on Wednesday.
The department called on city engineers to declare the scene structurally safe before they moved in to clear the rubble. Rescue operations are only expected to commence on Wednesday afternoon when the go-ahead is received from the engineers.
Sniffer dogs had identified a second body on Wednesday morning but rescue workers were struggling to recover it from under the rubble.
More than 29 people were rescued and taken to hospital on Tuesday night, some in critical condition.
By 5.20am the team had tried to find anybody trapped and had not had any responses from below the concrete.
Rescue Tech’s Nicholas Holmes said they had found it impossible to access the crevices to check for bodies or survivors.
“All entrances are sealed with rubble. At this stage we believe there are about 20 people still trapped. Even the dogs are struggling because of the amount of collapsed structural tubing and steel.”
The city on Wednesday morning turned its attention to developer Jay Singh, linked to Gralio Construction, which is building the mall.
A source close to the Singh family said they had gone into hiding to avoid the media contingent outside their Phoenix home. They had also switched off their cellphones.
Singh told the Post newspaper on Tuesday night that the plans for the building had not been approved, but claimed it was not uncommon in the building industry for developments to begin without the plans being passed.
He blamed the collapse on an engineering problem and said it had nothing to do with the plans.
The mall planned to house several chain stores, including Spar, Game and Edgars.
But it was revealed by a highly placed source with the city that Singh had not even had the area rezoned from residential to commercial, and should not have been building until this had been done.
He said that in 2010 the application had been refused because a traffic impact assessment had not been completed, and was still outstanding.
eThekwini mayor, James Nxumalo, said on Wednesday that a notice to stop construction had been issued four months ago. Because Gralio ignored the order, he said, the city had been forced to go to court, lodging papers on September 26.
On November 14 the order was issued unopposed, and the company was served the same day.
The source said that the city would blacklist Gralio immediately, but that this applied only to work done for the council. However they would scrutinise any work done privately by Gralio.
A woman paid by Gralio Construction to hire local workers said on Wednesday they had not been registered with the Department of Labour.
Ward 61 ANC Councillor, Michael Abraham, said Gralio had approached his offices to assist in the recruitment process.
Abraham appointed Nobesuthu (Monica) Mpeshwa, a local community worker, to oversee the process.
Abraham said: “The onus was on Gralio to have the workers medically examined and registered. It is clear they have violated the labour relations act and should be taken to task.”
MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, said an urgent meeting was being called by Nxumalo on Wednesday morning, to determine what will be done about the owner contravening the court order.
“The municipality was clear that the owner was not supposed to continue (construction) and if someone disrespects the court interdict, we can’t predict what will happen,” Dhlomo said.
“This affects not only the people of Tongaat, but people throughout the country.”
On Tuesday night, eThekwini city manager, S’bu Sithole, also confirmed that Gralio Construction had defied a court order to stop work at the site.
“This is the worst disaster to ever hit KwaZulu-Natal. We usually see this on television in other parts of the world. This is a major disaster,” Sithole said.
“There are culprits all across the city that are breaking the building by-laws everyday. Well, I have a message for them. This is it... it stops now,” Sithole said.
“Building contractors who fail to comply with regulations will be brought to book.
He said the area had been declared a disaster zone and investigations by the city as to what had caused the mall to collapse had already begun.
KZN ANC spokesman, Senzo Mkhize, said the party called on the city to blacklist all building companies found to be flouting regulations and wanted a police probe.