Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Nyagatare tragedy: Gov’t extends condolences, pledges action


Residents of Nyagatare watch as rescuers try to find survivors trapped in a collapsed building yesterday.
TOP GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS, including Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, yesterday vowed to get to the bottom of the reasons behind the fatal collapse of a four-storey building in Nyagatare District, Eastern Province.

By press time, four people had been confirmed dead following the tragedy, which struck at around 3pm local time – the first such incident the province has witnessed in recent history.

The latest updates The New Times received at around 10pm, from both Police Spokesperson Theos Badege, and the Eastern Province Governor, Odette Uwamariya, indicated that 36 people had initially been trapped, with more than 30 accounted for.

Four of the injured were in critical condition and were airlifted by a Rwanda Defence Force chopper to King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, while others were admitted at Nyagatare Hospital, according to the governor, who was still at the scene of the tragedy by 10pm.

The owner of the caved-in building, Eng. Geoffrey Barigye, was among those injured. Barigye’s own firm was supervising the construction works.

In Kigali, Premier Habumuremyi, writing on Twitter, extended “sympathy on behalf of the Government of Rwanda to families of victims and those injured” and promised a thorough inquiry to establish the cause of the tragedy.

Habumuremyi added: “The Government will investigate the matter and ascertain those responsible, while at the same time we will extend the necessary care and support to the victims.”

Seraphine Mukantabana, the Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs, said her ministry had dispatched a team to work with the military and police in the rescue exercise.

“The rescue process is still on and it will not be suspended until we are sure nobody is still under rubble,” she said last evening. “All indications show there are still people trapped under debris. Some are calling out for help; we are doing our best to save lives.”

In an earlier statement, Police said it was “unable to confirm details as to the cause of the building’s collapse, but this will be subject to an urgent investigation, undertaken with local and national authorities, that will begin as soon as the rescue operation concludes.”

Our correspondent at the scene reported that hundreds of police officers and soldiers had arrived last evening to help in the rescue operation. Inspector of Police Emmanuel K. Gasana and the RDF Chief of Staff (Land Forces), Maj. Gen. Frank Mushyo Kamanzi, were among the senior officials who rushed to the scene. 

Continued search 

After hours of speculation as to how many people might have been trapped under rubble, with some people initially putting the number above 50, Police said at around 9pm that 36 people had originally been trapped.

The force also said that 21 people were still admitted in hospital, while eight had been discharged.

And at around 10pm, Governor Uwamariya confirmed to The New Times that a fourth body had just been pulled out from debris, pushing death toll to four. 

She said rescuers were still looking for three other people who they believed were still under rubble.

 “We have an emergency at our hands and the mission is to make sure no one is left trapped.” 

She said the rescue team was “carefully using bulldozers and other equipment and deploying any other means to do this as fast as possible”.

Officials declined to be drawn into speculating about the possible cause of the accident. 

But unconfirmed reports indicated that the workers were attempting to broaden the base of the ill-fated building, including moving supporting pillars, which in effect weakened the entire structure.

Residents said the four-storey structure was nearing completion. They said it was one of the imposing buildings in the emerging town.

The last time such tragedy occurred in Rwanda was in April last year when another four-storey building, known as Petit Meridien, in the Kigali suburb of Kacyiru, which was under demolition at the time, collapsed, killing at least one person and injuring seven others.

Earlier, in July 2007, three people died at a construction site in Kiyovu in the capital Kigali, when a wall caved in as a result of a landslide. At that time, five people sustained injuries from the accident at the property of businessman Assinapol Rwigara.

Following yesterday’s incident, Premier Habumuremyi pledged his government will take appropriate measures to prevent such accidents.


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