Rushed construction led to building collapse in Nairobi

The Kenyan government said the owner and contractor of a building that collapsed, killing at least 14 people, were rushing construction workers to put up new floors even before concrete on the lower level had set properly.

The death toll from Monday’s central Nairobi building collapse rose to 14 on Tuesday, despite the efforts of rescuers, who pulled four survivors from the rubble as rescue teams from Israel, Britain and the United States arrived in the Kenyan capital.

“Now we have been learning from some of the people who had been working in the building that ... they were not being allowed to spend the normal 21 days to let the concrete set. It was taking much less before they were building another layer,” government spokesperson Alfred Mutua said.

“We have been looking for the owner, the contractor, the superintendent—the people who are directly involved in this,” he said.

Police Commissioner Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali said detectives have opened a criminal investigation into the collapse.

Police were looking for the owner, Jimmy Kehonge, and general contractor Francis Gathiara Tuesday, said Danson Diru, the divisional criminal investigation officer for central Nairobi.

Still-wet concrete could be seen falling off floor slabs’ metal reinforcing bars as wreckage was hauled off the site on Tuesday.
The smell of rotting flesh began to waft from the rubble at sunset.

Relatives have named 10 people whom they said were working at the site before the building collapsed and are now missing. But rescue workers did not know how many people were still trapped under the rubble, Health Minister Charity Ngilu said.

The arrival of special power tools that can cut through slabs of concrete and iron rods dramatically sped up the rescue effort, 30 hours after the five-storey building collapsed on unsuspecting laborers. The Israeli rescue team also started using high-tech detection equipment to look for survivors.

United States marines and navy engineers based in nearby Djibouti were on the scene early on Tuesday to see what assistance they could provide. A British team of experts arrived on Tuesday afternoon.

“The rescue effort is very complicated. ... There is very narrow space to work there. There’s lots and lots of rubble,” US army Colonel Donald Zimmer told The Associated Press at the site.

“Our hearts go out to the people who lost relatives here,” Paul Wooster, head of the 10-member British rescue team, said while studying the site ahead of operations. “Our deployment here is to find as many people as possible.”

President Mwai Kibaki returned early from an African Union summit in neighbouring Sudan and drove directly to the site on Tuesday afternoon.

“We want to pray the people still not recovered may be recovered. It is too soon to say anything about what has happened, but we need courage and to work hard,” he said.

Kenyan army Major General Paul Opiyo, who was leading the operation, said rescuers had found four additional survivors still trapped in two locations, as well as a large air pocket.

Israeli Majaor General Yitzhak Gershon, leader of the 140-member team made up of soldiers and other rescuers, was confident more survivors would be rescued. “If there are holes or air pockets, we can save many people,” he said before his team pulled out two survivors. Two other survivors were pulled out just before dawn

on Tuesday.

Ten bodies were recovered from the rubble. Hospital officials say four people have died so far while undergoing treatment for critical injuries. Doctors appealed for blood donations.

Workers struggled to reach survivors using welders, drills, metal-cutters, sledgehammers and crowbars while shouting encouragement through drainage pipes and holes in the rubble.

The construction workers had just finished lunch and many were taking a nap when the building began to sway, then quickly collapsed, witnesses said. About 280 construction workers were at the site in central Nairobi when the building came down, survivors said.

Officials have accounted for 106 people, including the dead and injured. No one has been able to provide authorities with a detailed list of who was at the site, Opiyo said. - Sapa-AP

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