NOTE: This article first appeared in The Citizen newspaper on June 26, 2014.
A body was recovered and five injured men suspected of stripping metal and cables from a decommissioned power station, in Orlando, Soweto, were last night rescued several hours after they had been trapped when the building collapsed on them.
“The men sustained head and body injuries, but they were stable,” said Johannesburg Emergency Management Services (EMS) spokesperson Nana Radebe. She said the body of the unidentified man was recovered late last night.
Police suspect that the men were trying to strip the dilapidated building of metal fittings and cables when the building caved in and trapped them under rubble.
“These guys came in the middle of the night, it’s obvious that they were stealing,” said Kay Makhubela from the South African Police Service.
However, last night after the rescue no arrests were made, instead the five men were taken to Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital for treatment.
Orlando resident Maria Matsinhe recalled how her husband telephoned her in the early hours yesterday to alert her of his ordeal.
Matsinhe said her husband Simon Pacul told her that there had been an accident involving himself, her brother and her nephew.
“I don’t know what they were doing there or how they got there, my husband was meant to be going back to work in Rustenburg,” said a visibly distraught Matsinhe.
Her husband is a miner and was supposed to return to work on the platinum belt, where the devastating five month strike finally ended this week.
The decommissioned power station at Power Park in Orlando, which was commissioned at the end of the Second World War and served Johannesburg for more than 50 years, collapsed at around 4am yesterday morning.
Monwabisi Tyani, who lives just behind the building, said: “I heard a sound like a bomb at about half past four.”
EMS spokesperson Radebe said Pacul, who was injured, called them for help.
“We received a call at about 7am and when we got here we found him,” said Radebe.
Radebe said Pacul was taken to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital for treatment. He suffered injuries to his legs, arms and hands.
“He is in a serious but stable condition,” Radebe said.
She suggested that the alleged theft of metal and cable could have caused the old building to collapse.
“Maybe they removed small quantities over time, which weakened the building,” said Radebe.
Soweto police spokesperson warrant officer Kay Makhubela said investigations to find out what the rescued men were doing at the building were in progress.
“We must find the owner of the building to see if he gave these people permission to be here,” said Makhubela.