Help in the face of tragedy

Ton­gaat res­i­dents came out in their num­bers to help in ev­ery pos­si­ble way

Weekend Witness - - News -

AS Ton­gaat reeled from a horror mall col­lapse this week, its res­i­dents emerged as un­sung he­roes.

From dig­ging through the rub­ble to pull out in­jured con­struc­tion work­ers, to pro­vid­ing tea and sand­wiches to the ex­hausted search and res­cue work­ers, the towns­peo­ple im­me­di­ately re­sponded to the dis­as­ter.

A lo­cal restau­ra­teur has even closed his es­tab­lish­ment so that po­lice and emer­gency res­cue crew can use it as an op­er­a­tions cen­tre.

On Tues­day, the mall col­lapsed, killing Zakithi Nx­u­malo (35) and in­jur­ing 29 peo­ple. One per­son is still miss­ing.

The mall is owned by Ravi Ja­gadasan, the di­rec­tor of Rect­an­gle In­vest­ments and the son of “Jay” Singh, a con­tro­ver­sial Dur­ban ty­coon linked to Gralio Prop­er­ties.

Search op­er­a­tions car­ried on at the site yes­ter­day as the Depart­ment of Labour and the eThek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity con­tin­ued in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the cause of the col­lapse.

One of the first on the scene on Tues­day was grand­fa­ther Manny Moon­samy.

He was play­ing with his grand­son when he heard a ter­ri­ble sound and saw lots of dust. “We went out­side and saw what had hap­pened and I was shocked.

“I went onto the scene and we helped as much as we could, giv­ing peo­ple wa­ter and help­ing carry the in­jured. It is in­deed a tragic oc­cur­rence and I hope the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble are brought to book.”

Ash­ley Goven­der was also one of the first to ar­rive at the site.

“I live in the area and heard the sound of the col­lapse and saw dust shoot into the air.

“We rushed to the site and saw two peo­ple on the floor. One man was se­verely bleed­ing from his head and was hold­ing his knee. It seemed to be crushed.”

Goven­der helped drag peo­ple away as they feared the en­tire mall would col­lapse, crush­ing those who had been in­jured in the first wave.

“When emer­gency ser­vices ar­rived we helped them carry the in­jured to the am­bu­lances.

“We also helped calm and as­sure some of the peo­ple who were fran­tic about what they had seen.”

Pas­tor Leon Soobramoney said he and his friends were very close to the crash site.

“We are a very small com­mu­nity and peo­ple just go out there to help when some­thing hap­pens.”

Noel Gabriel, who lives close to the mall, saw the dust in the air and “we knew there could still be work­ers trapped un­der­neath”.

“You could even hear some of them scream­ing for help. As­sist­ing them was re­flex­ive. Any­one would have done it.”

Busi­ness­man Shiven Ma­haraj said the vi­bra­tion and the sound of the tum­bling con­crete wall could be felt and heard through­out the town. Ma­haraj said they helped peo­ple who were hurt by the rub­ble and as­sisted emer­gency ser­vices.

“We then sup­plied the teams with food and drinks as they were dig­ging through those mounds of brick walls. This is the worst tragedy that has ever hit Ton­gaat.”

Nolita Mg­webi, a cook at the Cane­Cut­ters Restau­rant ad­ja­cent to the site, said: “I was out­side putting some rub­bish in the dust­bin when I heard a noise like thun­der. Then I saw peo­ple run­ning to­wards the mall and I joined them.

“I saw peo­ple fall­ing onto the grass and into the bushes. They were cry­ing. There were peo­ple trapped un­der con­crete and they were cry­ing, say­ing ‘help, help’.”

Mg­webi said she and oth­ers tried to help a man whose legs were badly in­jured when he was thrown across the rail­way line as the struc­ture col­lapsed. “But we couldn’t re­ally help, he was in too much pain. There was noth­ing we could do and then the am­bu­lances came.”

The Cane­Cut­ters Restau­rant is owned by Rukash and Ni­rashni Adruthku­mar. Cur­rently the dis­play menus are up­side down to show the restau­rant is closed for busi­ness. “I didn’t hear the col­lapse be­cause of the sound of the ex­trac­tor fans in the restau­rant,” says Rukash. But when he be­came aware some­thing was hap­pen­ing he went out­side.

“It was start­ing to rain,” he re­calls. When the po­lice and emer­gency ser­vices started to ar­rive they took shel­ter at the back of the restau­rant. “I told them to come in­side the restau­rant and work from there.” Since then the restau­rant has been the of­fi­cial op­er­a­tions cen­tre co­or­di­nat­ing the search and res­cue op­er­a­tion.

“I left that night at 2 am and got back at six in the morn­ing,” says Rukash, who has also fed the emer­gency per­son­nel. Sev­eral lo­cal com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als have spon­sored food for those work­ing on the site.

Oth­ers, like Fiona Moonean, opened their homes to res­cue work­ers, of­fer­ing hot cups of tea, sand­wiches and samoosas. “We helped with wa­ter, blan­kets and any­thing that we could pos­si­bly help with. I must say the com­mu­nity came to­gether and helped out in ev­ery pos­si­ble way.”

For search and res­cue work­ers, paramedics and po­lice, the town’s spirit in the face of dis­as­ter was amaz­ing.

Robert McKen­zie, an EMRS para­medic, said they were in­un­dated with peo­ple who of­fered to help in even the small­est way.

“We worked for long hours, and the kind­ness showed to us was truly awe­some. This town came out in their num­bers to help.”

“Ton­gaat is a small com­mu­nity and if there is a loss of life it touches every­body,” says Lieu­tenant Mandy Goven­der, SAPS Ton­gaat spokesper­son. “There was over­whelm­ing sup­port. Peo­ple ar­rived wear­ing gloves so they could help lift rub­ble and con­crete.”

MANNY MOON­SAMY: A grand­fa­ther, he was one of the first at the scene and helped the in­jured.

FIONA MOONEAN: Opened up her home to res­cuers and the me­dia.

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