‘Saving a worker trapped underground for days brought us joy’

As the rescue operation for the victims of the George building that collapsed was wrapped up at the weekend, emergency services workers have revealed that this was one of the most difficult assignments they have ever done.

According to the chief director of Western Cape disaster management, Colin Deiner, the mission was very difficult, but the team showed courage and dedication to save as many lives as they could.

Described as the worst since the dawn of democracy, the building collapse left 34 people dead. The rescue and recovery operations lasted 260 hours.

He said all the teams that came to assist were very dedicated to saving lives.

The teams from various municipalities in the Western Cape and other parts of the country worked with dedication to recover bodies and injured workers trapped under the rubble.

Rescuing 29 people is quite unique

More than 600 personnel, which included emergency services, fire services, police, rescue and recovery workers, earthmoving machine operators, and independent contractors, were deployed to help.

“The important thing about any rescue operation is that the quicker you get to the scene, especially in an incident like this one, where a building collapsed, it is all about how effective the team is while also using machinery to rescue people,” said Deiner.

“Honestly, to rescue 29 people who were trapped in the rubble is quite unique.

“We planned the operation when we got here, and it was very frantic as we could hear people screaming for help.

“Our first priority was to rescue anyone we could find. We stuck to our plan to make sure that we assisted as much as we could.”

Deiner stated that it was a traumatic experience to hear people screaming in anguish while trapped under the rubble.

Cry for help

“It was a traumatic experience to hear people crying out for help. In the same breath, we had hopes that there were people who were still alive, and that encouraged us more to rescue them.

“The rescue of one of the survivors, Gabriel, who was trapped under the rubble for five days, also brought us joy that we are doing great in this rescue mission.

“There were other four people who were trapped in the rubble in the basement, and we managed to retrieve them in 18 hours, and that was another success in the job we do.”

He said that there were instances where the team would hear people scream for help, and then there would be silence.

“The situation where we would hear people screaming for help, and when we tried to rescue them, there would be silence, would demoralise us. However, we never lost hope.

“Another thing is that we had trauma counsellors on site to also assist our team members who would find themselves in a traumatic position because of the work we were doing.

“It was a big task for us to make sure that their wellbeing was also being looked after while they were trying to save lives.”

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