At least three people were confirmed dead and dozens feared trapped, including children, after a half-built multi-storey building collapsed in Tanzania’s main city of Dar es Salaam on Friday.
Hundreds of people, including residents and army rescuers, clawed through piles of rubble in the hunt for survivors, alongside earthmovers and excavators.
The shell of the 16-storey building collapsed near a mosque in the Kisutu area of Tanzania’s economic capital as many people including children were working or playing nearby, witnesses said.
“I thought there was an earthquake and then I heard screaming. The whole building fell on itself,” witness Musa Mohamed told AFP.
Dar es Salaam regional police chief Suleiman Kova told reporters that the death toll now stood at three.
“Four children remain unaccounted for. They were playing near the building,” he said, adding that he had directed rescuers to “continue with the operation until the last victim is found”.
He said that although it was too early to establish the cause of the accident, “the owner of the building would be held responsible and taken to task”.
Police sources said several people had been arrested as part of the investigation but gave no further details.
Scores of people were reportedly working in and around the building at the time of the incident at around 8:45 am (0545 GMT). The shell of the Residents told AFP that during normal working days, the area bustles with activity from a mix of business people, passers-by and playing children.
“My children normally come to play here during Sundays and holidays. I am not sure whether they are also trapped,” one desperate local resident Elizabeth Richard told AFP through tears.
Next to her, rescue workers were dragging out pieces of wood, iron rods, chunks of sand and bricks from the 20-metre high piles of rubble with the hope of locating more survivors.
“I was terribly shocked with the strange noise,” said Ramadhan Issa, a taxi driver who was having tea at a nearby restaurant at the time of the disaster.
Saidi Mecky Sadiky, the Dar es Salaam regional commissioner, said up to 60 people, including workers, food vendors and children could have been around the area, which has a mix of both commercial and residential developments.
“It will take us several hours to reach the pockets we suspect to have survivors,” police officer Lameck Kundya told AFP.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete visited the scene of the disaster in the coastal city and posted messages of condolence on his Twitter account.
“We pray for those who have been afflicted by this tragedy. We pray for togetherness in this time of need,” he said.
In 2008, another building collapse in Dar es Salaam claimed at least four lives.
“It looks like the city authorities are not serious with the enforcement of construction and housing laws. The city is undergoing a construction boom, but incidents of collapsing buildings are on the increase,” resident Rashid Abdallah said.