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Officials battling to identify George building collapse victims, death toll rises to 32

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Authorities in George are struggling to establish the identities of victims removed from the rubble of a collapsed building a week after tragedy struck, as those recovered are in a state of decomposition.

Rescue operations continued at the collapsed George building where the death toll increased to 32 on Tuesday. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane, Independent Newspapers

AUTHORITIES in George are struggling to establish the identities of victims removed from the rubble of a collapsed building, as those recovered are in a state of decomposition.

The five-storey under-construction apartment building in Victoria Street collapsed last Monday, with 81 people on site. So far, 61 people have been rescued and recovered from underneath the rubble. Of those, 32 people are deceased and 12 are receiving medical treatment in hospital.

A total of 20 workers still remain unaccounted for.

Speaking to the media, the assistant director for Forensic Pathology Services, Floyd Herwels, said the bodies that are being recovered are in a state of decomposition.

He said this made the visual identification of the deceased difficult.

“We normally would not show any pictures to families of any bodies in a state of decomposition, but we find ourselves in a difficult situation. We have to sensitise the family members to the fact that the pictures might be gruesome, but it will assist us to link a family,” Herwels said.

“As the bodies come in, we will go through the post-mortem process so that we can get the pictures done.

“I understand that the families want closure, they want answers, but if they can give us a day after the body has been recovered to put the photo albums together …

“We are a multi-disciplinary team trying to get everybody identified and back to the family members as soon as possible,” Herwels added.

From the deceased who have been recovered from the rubble, one formal identification has been done and the body will be released to the family, while several bodies have been linked to family members.

“The actual physical identification process where it becomes formal needs to be done, but those are things like paperwork and ID documents which are needed,” he said.

Gabriel Guambe, 32, was the latest survivor to be rescued from underneath the debris on Saturday.

George residents observed a minute of silence at 2.09pm on Monday to honour the lives lost.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said the next step is to determine who is culpable and what the consequences are.

This, as infrastructure MEC Tertuis Simmers confirmed that the provincial government has launched an independent investigation into the tragedy.

“We want to ensure that we fully investigate and understand what happened, so that a tragedy like this does not recur on any construction site in this province,” Simmers said.

George Municipality said there is still an urgent call for professional psycho-social support practitioners proficient in Chewa, Portuguese and Shona to assist survivors and their families.

Several practitioners have already offered their services and more are welcome to contact Kholiswa Jobela on 078 210 5972 or Apolus Swart on 061 504 4205.

While photos and video evidence are available, the public has been asked that those who may have taken videos or photos of the building as construction took place to share these.

Simmers said the valuable information will help to sequence the construction for the investigators to get a full picture of how the process unfolded before the building collapsed.

Any photos and videos of the site prior to the building collapse can be e-mailed to [email protected].

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