An unknown number of construction workers remained missing Tuesday in a building collapse in Kenya’s capital as teams from the United States, Britain and Israel arrived to help rescuers struggling to reach those trapped inside.
The death toll rose to 14 as rescuers cut into concrete slabs and iron rods with newly arrived power tools and pulled four survivors — and more bodies — from the rubble.
“We want to pray the people still not recovered may be recovered,” President Mwai Kibaki said after returning early from an African Union summit in neighboring Sudan. “It is too soon to say anything about what has happened, but we need courage and to work hard.”
He pledged to buy professional rescue equipment for future disasters.
An estimated 280 construction workers had been inside the five-story building in central Nairobi on Monday when it began to sway and quickly collapsed. Many of the workers had been on a break, napping.
Most were day laborers and no one has been able to provide authorities with a detailed list of who was at the site. It was not known how many managed to flee before the building fell.
Officials have accounted for 106 people, including the dead and injured, said army Maj. Gen. Paul Opiyo, who was leading the operation.
Workers struggled through the night to reach survivors using sledgehammers, metal-cutters and crowbars while shouting encouragement through drainage pipes and holes in the rubble.
Opiyo said rescuers Tuesday found four survivors trapped in two locations under the rubble.
“A third site has been identified where survivors may be huddled,” he said.
Rescuers were concentrating their efforts in areas where they could hear tapping or muted voices, police spokesman Superintendent Jaspher Ombati said.
“We have to move quickly to get them out,” Ombati said, adding that authorities were concerned about further collapse.
Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Gershon, leader of a team of soldiers and other Israeli rescuers, said he was confident more survivors would be rescued.
“If there are holes or air pockets, we can save many people,” he said as his team probed the rubble with advanced detection equipment.
U.S. Marines and Navy engineers based in nearby Djibouti were on the scene and a British team of experts arrived Tuesday afternoon.
Gershon said eight bodies had been recovered and two remained crushed in the rubble. Hospital officials said four people had died while being treated.
Doctors appealed for blood donations at Kenyatta General Hospital, where 42 were in stable condition.
Criminal investigation opened
One construction worker, who would not give his name for fear of repercussions from his employer, said Monday that an inspector had warned last week that the structure was not safe and workers had been trying to stabilize it.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Hussein Ali, the police commissioner, said detectives have opened a criminal investigation into the collapse. Local Government Minister Musikari Kombo suspended four senior city engineers Tuesday.
“I’m suspending the officers who were directly involved in this project,” Kombo said in a statement. “In the meantime, a ministerial task force will be put in place to investigate the matter and make recommendation to the government.”
Raila Odinga, the main opposition leader and a member of parliament, said a thorough investigation was needed and that those found responsible should face the death penalty.
“I suspect the building collapsed because they used poor materials or that the job was rushed,” he said.