• 5 confirmed dead
By Vincent Ujumadu and Chimaobi Nwaiwu
A building collapse just occurred in the commercial city of Onitsha Anambra State, claiming five lives, including a man described as Site Engineer in charge of the three-storey building under construction.
It was not the first time residents of Onitsha were witnessing building collapse. In 2016, a two-storey building also under construction at Ndiagu in Idemili North local government area near Onitsha, also collapsed, killing three artisans working at the site.
Sometime in 2013, a two-storey building under construction at Omaba area of Onitsha collapsed, although no life was lost in that incident.
There was also the case of a collapsed uncompleted three—storey students’ hostel in Oko, Orumba North LGA
The frequent rate of building collapse in the state necessitated the decision of the state government to set up materials testing laboratories in Onitsha and Nnewi and the laboratories are functioning.
The idea was that materials used in the building industry, including cement, rods and soil, must be tested before moving to construction site to ensure that only standard materials are used.
The latest incident in Onitsha has made it necessary for the laboratories to be up and doing to forestall future occurrence.
When the four-storey building under construction at Ezenwa Street by Ogalonye junction collapsed on Wednesday, the victims were workers at the site.
It took various agencies several hours to rescue the victims from the rubble and at the last count five persons were dead, while three sustained various degrees of injuries.
The building collapse took place at about 1.30 pm when workers were busy carrying out construction work.
It was wailing and sobbing as the victims were brought out.
It was such a pitiable sight when rescue workers first brought out a dismembered leg of one of the victims before the full body was brought out thirty minutes later and taken to the Onitsha General Hospital mortuary by officials of the Nigerian Red Cross Society.
The mood of sympathizers, who were jubilating when the first, second and third victims were rescued alive, changed when part of the dismembered body of the fourth victim, hip joint area, was brought out by the excavator operator.
The excavator operator was asked to halt operation immediately the victim’s dismembered body was found, and manual rescue method used until his whole body was located and brought out and taken to the mortuary.
The owner of the collapsed building, who was said to be a legal practitioner, did not show up at the scene of the incident while rescue operation was on as he was said to be devastated by the incident.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the landlord has several landed property in many parts of Onitsha before he started the construction of the collapsed building.
The rescue team was made up of members of the Onitsha branch of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, led by its Chairman, Engineer Victor Aniekwena, the Nigerian Red Cross Society, NRS, led by its Chairman, Professor Peter Kachi, the staff of Onitsha North local government area and volunteers.
After several hours of painstaking efforts, three people were rescued alive in the evening of Wednesday, while one person with dismembered body was not lucky enough to survive, as he was brought out dead.
Later at night on Wednesday, three other people were brought out from the rubble dead.
Later on Thursday, two more bodies were brought out.
The scene attracted a large number of Onitsha residents and others whose relations reside in the town to identify the victims.
At about 12 noon on Thursday, two corpses, one identified as that of Julius from Aguleri in Anambra East local government area, and that of James, said to be from Enugu State, were still lying beside the rubble as there was no vehicle to convey them to the mortuary.
Some sympathizers almost created a scene following the delay in taking the deceased to the mortuary.
However, the situation was calmed when around 1.27pm, a blue Volvo saloon car was brought and the corpses were taken to the mortuary, after their relations had identified them.
Narrating how his men handled the situation, Aniakwena said: “When we got the distress call that there was a collapsed building, we contacted some of our colleagues who are residing around Onitsha and we rushed down to the scene and found that some people were trapped.
“We gathered some of our colleagues who have equipment and started the rescue operation and did it till 1am on Thursday before we rested and continued.
“One of the survivors informed us that they were only seven in the building at the time it collapsed and we ensured that all of them were brought out, with five dead and two alive.
“At the time we were carrying out the rescue operation, one of the victims was even making telephone calls from inside the rubble to tell us where he was trapped until we rescued him. He was even the one that pointed the positions they were before the incident and that helped in finding others easily, and the survivors have been taken to hospital.”
Speaking professionally, Aniekwena added: “The developer may not have followed the rules and regulations. There were a lot of errors and since the Anambra State Testing Lab on Structures, the Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, and all the people in charge of material testing have come and picked samples from the rubble, the real cause of the collapse will soon be known.
“They picked samples from the slabs, the reinforcements, the cements and the blocks and it is only when they have done the analysis and come up with the result that we can say authoritatively the cause of the collapse.
“You know that in any test there are certain things that will draw one’s mind before speaking authoritatively. The building fell horizontally and so definitely one will be able to know that it was foundation fault. Maybe the developer did not do the needful, by doing soil text analysis, for instance, to know the soil bearing capacity of the area, and to know the kind of foundation to put up.
“We will ask the developer if a qualified engineer was in charge of the construction and who that engineer is. If he gives us the name, we will be able to know if the person is an engineer or not because we are seeing cases where people who are not engineers claiming that they are.
“If we find out that the person is our member, his certificate will be in question, and we will investigate him and if we find out that it is engineering fault, the person is going down as the building he supervised went down. He will also face the law.
“These days every quack can come up to claim that he is an engineer. Once one can mix cement and put blocks together, he begins to answer an engineer.
“So we will find out if the person we brought out who people said is the engineer is truly an engineer. We are therefore waiting for the developer to come out to provide who the engineer for this project is.”