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50 missing at building site collapse in South Africa

South African paramedics say a partly built shopping mall has collapsed, trapping up to 50 workers and killing at least one. More than 20 others have been pulled from the debris, many critically injured, police said.

A three-storey structure collapsed at the site of a mall construction on Tuesday in the South African town of Tongaat. Police spokeswoman Mandy Govender said at least 26 people were rescued but as many as 50 were feared trapped under rubble.

"Most of those still trapped inside the building were construction workers," she said.

Scores of rescue workers and police combed broken concrete slabs and twisted metal late on Tuesday, illuminated by powerful floodlights.

Paramedics used sniffer dogs to locate victims. Heat-seeking equipment reportedly detected three spots where survivors might be located. Fiber-optics cables were inserted into the rubble for a closer look.

Hydraulic equipment

A spokesman for a private emergency medical service, Chris Botha, said the scene was "horrific," telling the broadcaster ENCA that big concrete blocks "had fallen on to people."

"The guys are using hydraulic rescue equipment to break through the concrete and get to some of the patients," Botha said.

Paramedic Neil Powell said most of the injuries were "broken bones, multi-fractures and crush injuries."

"It's a very big construction site, probably about 200 meters (656 foot) long," Powell said.

'Whole slab' fell

Local resident Fiona Moonean said from her kitchen she saw the "whole slab" fall. "That just came down and all you could hear was the guys screaming," Moonean said.

The cause of the collapse was not immediately clear, but eyewitnesses quoted by the news agency AFP said scaffolding had been removed beforehand.

Deputy Mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala told Reuters that local authorities had tried to halt construction at the site a month ago.

"We were not aware that they were continuing building," he said.

Construction boom

Tongaat, a town of roughly 43,000 people, lies around 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Durban, South Africa's main Indian Ocean city.

The surrounding province of KwaZulu-Natal is the home of President Jacob Zuma.

The region has enjoyed a construction boom in the last few years, based in part on huge government investment in infrastructure projects.

ipj/ccp (AP, Reuters, AFP)