© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Ten days after, ‘dozens’ remain trapped in Port Harcourt’s collapsed building
NEMA says rescue efforts being intensified, commissioner resigns
ALL hopes of finding any other survivor in the building collapse incident that occurred in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, on Friday, November 23, are gradually fading away, ten days into the unfortunate incident.
The seven-storey building, which was still under construction when it collapsed, is situated along Woji Road in the Government Reserved Area of Port Harcourt.
Governor Nyesom Wike has ordered the arrest of the owner of the building, the engineer handling the construction, and the state officials that gave approval for the building to take off. He said that approval ought not to have been given for a seven-storey building in that area of the city, as it violated the city’s original master plan.
The Rivers State police command has confirmed that all the people involved in erecting the building have been taken into custody, but they would not name any names.
“The owner of the building has been arrested. He’s with us helping with investigations,” said Nnamdi Omoni, spokesperson of the Police in Rivers State.
“We also have with us the site engineer, the architect, the builder himself. We have been able to get statements from some of the survivors, sharing their accounts of what has happened.
“Investigations are discreet. We have also deployed our Anti-Bomb Unit. Our men are probing to also try to see other possible angles, like if there was any sabotage.”
Victims still trapped
But beyond the issue of trading blames with regards to who is to blame for the collapse, there is the pertinent issue of how to rescue the people who are believed to still be trapped in the building.
About 60 persons – consisting of construction workers, building material suppliers, and petty traders – were said to have been inside or around the building when it collapsed.
The South-South Zonal Director of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Ejike Martins, told The ICIR on Monday that 39 persons have been brought out of the building so far; 31 dead and eight alive.
Some of the survivors sustained serious injuries, one had one of his hands amputated.
One of the victims yet to make it out of the collapsed building is Morgan Ihionu, a supplier of scaffolds who had gone to collect his payment when the collapse occurred.
“We were at a stone throw, The Boss Club, playing snooker when Morgan was alerted that money had arrived to pay workers and suppliers,” the victim’s cousin, Chimezie Ihionu, narrated to Vanguard Newspaper.
“Shockingly, someone called less than five minutes later that the building had collapsed and Ekene (Morgan) was inside. We have stayed put at the scene since Friday. Ekene was calling us among others trapped inside. This morning (Saturday, December 1), his phone is no longer reachable.”
As at Monday morning, Morgan, together with many others, was still trapped in the building, according to Benjamin Obidegwu, the President General of Obodoukwu Town Union, where Morgan hails from.
“I spoke with the Chairman of PH branch earlier today. Our dear Morgan remains trapped in the collapsed building. Sad. Very Sad,” Obidegwu, a legal practitioner, wrote on Monday.
NEMA doing its best
Ejike Martins, the NEMA official coordinating the rescue efforts, told The ICIR that officials on the ground are doing their best to get to the people in the building, most whom are believed to be trapped in the basement.
He explained that the agency has equipment which they deploy during search and rescue operations, but the Port Harcourt incident was unprecedented and required heavy equipment. However, the needed equipment has since been deployed to the site of collapse by some international oil companies operating in the state, as well as Julius Berger construction company.
“We are here, trying to coordinate, working with the ministry of special duties and assisting them wherever the need arises,” he said
Asked whether there was hope of getting any other victim out of the collapsed building alive, Martins said his experience as an emergency worker had taught him never to lose hope. He added, however, that everything possible would be done to get the trapped victims out whether dead or alive.
Martins also said he could not put a definite date to when the trapped victims would be reached, as the building was a massive one and there are lots of iron rods hampering the speed of work.
“They (the rescuers) are using machines to cut the iron rods before they do another round of excavation. It’s a technically difficult operation,” he said.
Ejike also urged the general public to disregard the “wrong information” being peddled about by several people about the rescue efforts at the collapsed building. He reiterated NEMA’s commitment to continuing with the operations until all trapped victims were brought out.
Following the incident, the Rivers State Commissioner for Urban Development, Reason Onya, has tendered his resignation.
“After due consultation with my family on the collapsed seven-storey hotel building under construction, I have decided to ‘step aside’ as the Honourable Commissioner for Urban Development and Physical Planning on 28/11/2018 during the State Executive Council Meeting,” Onya wrote.
“The building plan was approved on 18/7/2014 and revalidated by me on 14/9/2018, because the file was missing.
“To those that lost their loved ones, I am pained, so pained that each time I visit the site, my heart bleeds; each time I hear news of it, I am perturbed. I am sincerely sorry for all the pains you all have gone through in the cause of this that my official assignment is involved.”
It is not clear yet whether further actions will be taken against the commissioner, especially given the Governor’s claims that approval for the collapsed building was against the original master plan of the city.