Tragedy hit Ghana yesterday when the Achimota branch of the Melcom Shopping Centre in Accra, the nationâ€™s capital, collapsed and trapped more than 56 workers and shoppers inside the facility.
At the time of filing this story, four persons- a security man and three female workers- were confirmed dead, according to police reports.
The incident was said to have been preceded by an explosion followed by the cracking of windscreens of vehicles in the vicinity.
Melcom Limited is one of Ghana’s largest departmental stores.
The collapsed six-storey mall is opposite the Neoplan Assembly Plant and the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) at Achimota, on the Accra-Kumasi highway, and shares a wall with the Fidelity Bank.
At the time of filing this report around 5pm yesterday, 48 of the victims had been rescued.
The Melcom multi-storey shopping complex does not have the necessary building permit.
According to the Member of Parliament for Okaikoi North, Elizabeth Sackey, in whose constituency the building was located, she had been informed by the building inspector for the area that it had no permit.
â€śI spoke to the building inspector; to my surprise he is telling me they never gave permit for this building. And I asked him, if they didnâ€™t, how come the building was put up until now and they have not done anything about it,â€ť she queried.
An eyewitness said he saw the building caving in slowly, around 9:36am, minutes after business had commenced.
When the building went down completely, a combined team of the police and the National Ambulance Service rushed to the scene but could do little in the few minutes following the disaster.
Those trapped could be heard shouting and screaming for assistance as they lay helpless under the debris.
Eventually, other security agencies such as the Ghana National Fire Service, Ghana Armed Forces, Police Service and the National Sanitation Task Force were deployed to the scene of the disaster where they put up their best under the challenging circumstances, to save lives.
They were, however, handicapped with the type of equipment that they had as it could not do the job.
Some rescuers came with shovels and pick axes, which were of no use for such a mission.
The incident attracted thousands of onlookers who were desperate to catch a glimpse of the collapsed building which was commissioned ten months ago.
The Greater Accra Regional Police PRO, Robert Freeman Tettey, told the media that the death toll could rise because some of those rescued were unconscious at the time of their rescue.
The survivors were sent to the Achimota Hospital while those in critical conditions were sent to other health facilities.
According to Isaac Listowel, a survivor, an air conditioner repairer of Melcom, he saw one of the pillars of the wall with cracks last Sunday afternoon and reported the matter to one of their supervisors for action but he took no action, retorting, â€śThe Lord is with usâ€ť and left.
He added that on Monday, another crack was noticed on another pillar but a mason was called to work on it.
â€śAround 9:30am, we all converged on the conference room for our morning devotion but the air conditioner was not working so all the workers moved to the third floor, leaving me in the conference room to repair the spoilt air conditioner,â€ť he said.
â€śA few minutes later, l saw the whole building caving in but there was nothing that I could do,â€ť he explained, adding that he could hear people screaming for help.
Isaac, appearing traumatized with minor injuries, refused to be taken to hospital, pleading to see others.
However, he was bundled into a waiting ambulance to the hospital.
Others were rushed to medical facilities such as the 37 Military Hospital, the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and the Achimota Hospital.
President John Mahama, Vice President Amissah-Arthur and other government officials were at the scene to assess the situation.
A delegation from the opposition New Patriotic Party, led by Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, running mate to Nana Akufo-Addo; and Jake Obestebi-Lamptey, the national chairman, was also at the scene.
President Mahama said he had information that a building had collapsed so he had to abandon his campaign to come and ascertain things for himself.
â€śI immediately spoke to the vice president, the Chief of Staff, including the defence minister, to mobilise all the rescue teams in the country to the scene,â€ť he explained.
According to the president, he received offers of assistance from two friendly nations who were experts in disaster situations to help the Ghana rescue team to save lives, adding, â€śI have accepted the offer.â€ť
He said government would put in place a mechanism to check the safety and security of storey buildings in the country.
The management of Melcom Limited issued a statement saying it was doing everything possible to see that help reached victims of the disaster.
It expressed its condolences and deepest sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives.
According to the statement, the company rented the collapsed building which housed their Achimota branch from one Nana Boadu for ten years.
Nana Addo Consoles Victims
The NPP flagbearer, who was touring the Volta Region, also cut short his campaign because of the disaster.
â€śWhilst touring the Volta Region today, I received word that this morning, the Melcom building in Achimota collapsed, with some fatalities already reported and an unknown number of people still trapped inside.
â€śThere will be time to find the causes of this tragedy, responsible for the loss of life and injury to so many people, but at this time, I would like to express my heartfelt sympathy to those who have been affected by this tragedy.
â€śIt is my sincerest prayer that we can minimise the loss of life and that the hardworking men and women of the Ghana Fire Service can conduct a successful search and rescue operation.
â€śLet us remain calm and collectively pray for the lives of all those involved in this tragedy as we await more details,â€ť Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement.
By Linda Tenyah &Cephas Larbi