Ghana mall collapse kills four, investigation ordered

ACCRA Wed Nov 7, 2012 4:47pm EST

1 of 8. A wounded man trapped in the debris of a collapsed building rented by Melcom Ltd, which runs Ghana's largest chain of retail department stores, waits for help, in Accra November 7, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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ACCRA (Reuters) - At least four people were killed and dozens more were trapped in rubble when a four-storey building housing a department store collapsed on Wednesday in a suburb of Ghana's capital Accra.

President John Mahama, running for election in December, cut short a campaign tour to visit the site and promised that anyone found responsible would "pay the price" as it emerged the building had not received proper approval from city authorities.

"This brings to the fore the need for strict enforcement of our building and construction code," Mahama said, calling for an investigation into how codes may have been circumvented.

Rescue workers had pulled 42 survivors from the rubble by nightfall as well as four dead bodies and large crowds gathered to watch, a Reuters witness said.

One survivor thrust a triumphant fist in the air to the cheers of onlookers as he was carried to a waiting ambulance. Some of those rescued showed signs of injury, and all were examined at a nearby hospital.

Around 10 people were still believed to be trapped under the wreckage, though authorities said most were in good spirits and some had been able to communicate with their families by mobile telephone.

Officials said rescue efforts would continue through the night and emergency workers were able to supply trapped victims with drinking water and oxygen through openings in the wreckage.

Emergency officials at the scene said the collapse most likely had been caused by structural failure.

"We never granted any permit for this building so it is a case of an unauthorized structure," Mayor Alfred Okoe Vanderpuije told Reuters. "We have asked the owner to report to our office tomorrow morning to answer questions."

Accra is in the midst of a construction boom spurred by oil-fuelled economic growth. Construction standards region-wide are generally poor and enforcement of building codes is often lax.

Melcom Ltd., which runs Ghana's biggest chain of retail department stores, said it had rented the building and opened a store there about six months ago.

"This is a tragedy and we are very much concerned about those trapped in there," said Vitalina Adjimani, a Melcom official. "Our concern is not about the loss of property but it's about human lives."

(Reporting by Kwasi Kpodo; Writing by Richard Valdmanis and Joe Bavier; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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