Authorities in Ghana have detained a municipal works official accused of allowing a building that collapsed to be built without a construction permit.
The death toll from the collapse had risen to 18 by Friday night while 79 survivors were pulled from the debris but authorities believe other bodies remain in the debris.
Carl Henry Clerk is accused of allowing the multi-story home goods store to go up even after being alerted that it had no permit.
Workers had congregated for morning prayers on the ground floor of the Melcom retail store in northern Accra Wednesday morning at around 9:15 when they heard a “boom, boom, boom” and the building collapsed around them.
Ghana’s National Disaster Management Organization cited structural weakness as the cause of the collapse of the store, which was being leased by Melcom Ltd., Ghana’s largest retail chain. Investigations are on-going, while the owner of the building, the engineer and the architect are being sought by police.
Darkwah, one of the survivors, said he saw a crack in one of the building’s pillars the day before the collapse, and that he alerted his boss. “I told my branch manager. He later said it was checked and it was just a crack,” Darkwah said Saturday.
Vice-president Kwesi Amissah-Arthur declared the collapse a national disaster and Ghana’s president John Dramani Mahama interrupted his political campaign for reelection in December to help manage the rescue efforts.
“This is a wake-up call to everybody” to upgrade country’s building code and enforcement mechanisms,” said regional Police Chief Patrick Timbillah.
By Saturday, the scene was orderly and about half of the rubble had been removed. In areas that had been inspected for bodies, excavators were dropping heaps of debris into dump trucks.
Rescue efforts were also helped by a team of 18 experts from Israel who arrived Thursday with lasers and highly-trained sniffer dogs to help locate bodies in the ruins.
But by Saturday evening, not everyone had found their loved ones.
Twenty-five-year-old Matilda Atantues stood behind police lines waiting for word of her sister. She said on Wednesday morning Ruth Atantues, 22, a cleaner at Melcom, left for work at 7 a.m. and never came back. Matilda and other relatives have been to every hospital looking for Ruth, she said. After three days, Matilda was back standing in the heat on the busy thoroughfare next to the building’s ruins waiting for word. “After three days we are not ready to give up hope,” said Atantues. “It’s our hope that she is inside and OK.”