New Vision (Kampala)

31 January 2008

Uganda: Survivors Rescued After 24 Hours

Kampala — TWO people, including the foreman of a school building that collapsed on Wednesday, were yesterday rescued from underneath tonnes of rubble where they had been buried for more than 24 hours.

Sam Kafeeri, the site manager, who had multiple injuries, was pulled from under the debris shortly after 1:00pm, a few minutes after equally injured Samson Twine, a carpenter at the site, was hoisted out.

For all the time they were trapped in the ruins, surrounded by darkness, with no food and water, they clung to their lives, their only consolation a mobile phone with which they maintained contact with the outside world.

Two hours earlier, Kafeeri had called the area LCI chairman, Gabunga Kayanja, who instantly alerted the rescue team, which included the Police, the fire brigade, the army and area residents.

The team abandoned using heavy earth movers, fearing it could harm the survivors, and instead opted to use more laborious means of pick axes and shovels. They prodded the rubble and used hydraulic cutters to snap intricate webs of steel rods, until their efforts finally paid off.

The foreman handed over a book with information about the site before the two were lifted on stretchers by Uganda Red Cross Society personnel and taken to waiting ambulances, which sped them to Mulago Hospital.

Their rescue brought relief to the gloomy faces of the rescue workers, whose preoccupation had swayed from recovering bodies to securing the lives of those still trapped beneath.

A total of 11 construction workers were killed when the multi-storey building at St. Peter's Naalya Secondary School in Kira, Wakiso district caved in on Wednesday morning. Seven workers were still missing last night but the Police said chances of finding more survivors were slim.

CID detectives have arrested two officials of the Kira Town Council, the town engineer, Samuel Mwesigwa, and the physical planner, Godfrey Kato, in connection with the incident.

"The two are with us to help with the investigations," police spokesman Gabriel Tibayungwa said yesterday. They were taken for interrogation because they were responsible for authorising the plan and supervising the construction, he explained.

The Police also said they were still hunting for other people, including the proprietor, engineer Dominic Kavutse, who was reportedly down with hypertension and was receiving treatment at an undisclosed facility.

Kampala Extra spokesman, Simeo Nsubuga, disclosed that a ten-man team, led by deputy director CID, Elly Womanya, had been instituted to probe the incident. "We are working with other agencies so as to get to the bottom of the matter," he stated.

The Police identified the dead as Joseph Osinde, Kaloli Muhwezi, Andrew Wako, Isma Muliika, Daniel Wambi, Justus Akankwasa, Julius Kyakunda alias Mulaasi, James Niiwabiine and Alex Assimwe. Three others have not yet been identified.

Workers MP Mary Tunde has demanded that the Government regulates the construction industry in order to avoid similar disasters.

Works minister John Nasasira, who visited the site on Wednesday night, announced that the Government would soon come out with stern measures to ensure that people who construct storey buildings adhere to new construction guidelines.

"We do not want to tolerate this anymore. Some people are now constructing buildings without qualified engineers and this has caused the loss of many lives," Nasasira said.

Meanwhile, construction experts, who visited the scene yesterday, found that the builders did not use the right quantities of building materials.

The architects and engineers, led by housing minister Michael Werikhe Kafabusa, also discovered that the building foundation was designed for two floors but it had five floors.

"Our preliminary findings show that there was poor use of materials, the workmanship was poor and there was overloading on the building's foundation because while it originally was designed for two floors, it had five floors which were too heavy," said Luke Anguyo, the chairperson of the Accidents Committee of the Architects Registration Board, at a press conference at the Media Centre.

"There was serious lack of supervision of this project, causing the collapse and loss of so many lives. We are going to get to the bottom of this tragedy," added Chief Government Architect Duncan Kasozi.

Proper building standards had not been adhered to, confirmed Joel Kateregga, the chairman of the Architects Registration Board. "They did not follow the requirements of the Architects Registration Act of 1996. We need to tighten the law to criminalise certain acts like what happened in Naalya."

Francis Baziraake, the representative of the Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers, concurred with their findings. "So far, we have discovered that the problem was caused by the inappropriate ratio of cement and aggregates. Evidence so far indicates that there was too little cement to create the recommended bond, leading to the crash."

Extending condolences to the berieved, housing minister Werikhe stressed that this was one of the worst building site accidents in recent years. He recalled the Bwebajja accident in 2004, which killed 27 people, and the Kalerwe-Bwaise church collapse in 2006, which killed 28.

He said the Government was aware of a tendency by private building developers to use unqualified and inexperienced builders. "This, coupled with the lack of capacity by local authorities to monitor construction works, causes the collapse of privately owned buildings."

He pointed out that the Government had reviewed the Architects Registration Act and other laws to address the problem.

"The Building Control Bill 2008 is already in Cabinet and about to go to Parliament for debate. We want to enact it so that we can criminalise such acts. We are working with the Police to prosecute the offenders," the housing minister said.

Reporting by Herbert Ssempogo, Steven Candia, Nicholas Kajoba, Fred Ouma and Alfred Wasike

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