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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 01:07 GMT
SA mall collapse injures 21
An injured child is evacuated by helicopter
Only a few of the injured were children
Rescuers in South Africa have dug scores of people from the rubble of a busy Pretoria shopping centre where 21 people were injured after the roof collapsed.

They say no more people are believed trapped in the debris and police expressed amazement that the casualty figure was not higher.

The army, police and fire crews rushed to search for survivors after the Kolonnade centre's concrete roof collapsed on Christmas shoppers.

Part of it crashed onto an ice rink where children were skating.

Fifty people were initially thought injured and police feared many more had been buried.


It could have been much worse - it's a miracle

Kolonnade spokeswoman Gerna Van Rooyen
Rescuers dragged shoppers and skaters from the rubble while concerned relatives desperately tried to find their loved ones in the panic.

The car park became a temporary field hospital as those who had been shopping when the large section of roof fell were treated for breaks, concussion and more serious injuries.

Of the 21 people taken to hospital, three - including a nine-month-old baby - are critically injured, according to police.

Sniffer dogs searched the scene into Thursday night, but found no more casualties.

Witnesses

One eye-witness described seeing cracks in the floor above the ice rink and then hearing a load bang as the floor collapsed.

Others said shoppers ran in fear as the roof, two storeys above the ice rink, fell in with a deafening roar, releasing a huge cloud of dust.

A shocked by-stander
Shoppers ran in fear as the roof fell in
"It was like the World Trade Center, dense dust and people running," said Dr George Michael Scharfs, a surgeon who was nearby at the time and rushed to help with the rescue operation.

Shiraaz Osman, who owns a shoe shop in the shopping centre, said he grabbed his son and ran outside when he saw the floor cracking.

"If it had been two minutes later we would have been in there," he said.

Weather fears

"The whole rink is covered. One cannot see anything of the rink," said Pretoria emergency spokesman Johan Pieterson.

He said most of those injured were adults, and that many of the victims had been standing at a glass wall watching skaters on the ice rink.

It is thought that a small section of the roof collapsed first, giving people a chance to escape.

Kolonnade centre
The shopping centre has up to 40,000 visitors a day
"It could have been much worse. It's a miracle," Kolonnade spokeswoman Gerna Van Rooyen said.

She told BBC News Online that the ice rink, which was reopened in October after being extended, could have been affected by recent heavy rains.

She said: "We have had some very weird weather in December - it has rained almost constantly for the past month and a half.

Investigators on the scene said that they had no idea what caused the roof to collapse in a part of the shopping centre that has only been open a few months.

The building is being made safe and the full investigation will begin in earnest at first light.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Robert Parsons
"It is one of the newest and biggest shopping complexes in South Africa"
Ambulance service spokeswoman Maryan Barnard
"It is a very popular shopping centre"
See also:

05 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: South Africa
18 Jun 01 | Africa
Timeline: South Africa
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