LAGOS, Nigeria – Rescuers combed the rubble of a skyscraper in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, in search of survivors on Tuesday, the day after it collapsed during construction when the death toll rose to 16 and hundreds were reported missing.
The Lagos state government said it had indefinitely suspended its chief architect and initiated an independent investigation into the causes of the collapse of what would become the high-end apartment block.
Rescue workers were preparing for a second night of work when earthmoving equipment lifted chunks of wall at the construction site in the affluent Ikoyi neighborhood. Large trailers were brought in to carry debris and block one of Ikoyi’s main roads.
In Africa’s most populous country, building collapses often occur, where regulations are inadequately enforced and building materials are often of inferior quality.
The Lagos state government cordoned off the site in June for failure to meet construction requirements and is demanding that the anomaly be corrected before construction can continue, the state’s deputy governor Obafemi Hamzat said in a statement. He did not say whether this problem was resolved.
Sixteen bodies, including the building owner’s assistant, have been recovered so far while nine people have been pulled out alive, rescue workers said as excavators sifted debris from the piles of broken concrete and bent metal where the building once stood.
Hamzat said the number of people trapped is unknown, but interviews with workers revealed that there were up to 40 on site when the building collapsed, much less than an initial number of 100 reported by witnesses Monday.
Excited families whose loved ones were missing gathered nearby. Some wailed and others prayed in small groups for their loved ones to return safely.
When emotions flared, some got into an argument with government officials and asked to be allowed to help with the searches.
High-end homes have sprung up in Ikoyi, and the collapsed building was part of three towers built by private developer Fourscore Homes, with the cheapest unit costing $ 1.2 million.
Fourscore Homes developer and owner Olufemi Osibona told a local news channel in August that he had developed buildings in the London boroughs of Peckham and Hackney and that the Ikoyi apartments were the start of major projects he was planning in Nigeria.
Osibona could not be reached on Tuesday for comment. Local media reports said he may have been a prisoner.