* Crews find 9 dead, 69 survivors in wreckage
* Unknown number still trapped
* Israeli military dispatches search team
(Adds details, quotes)
By Kwasi Kpodo
ACCRA, Nov 8 An Israeli military team arrived in
Ghana on Thursday to help search for survivors a day after a
four-storey shopping mall collapsed in the West African state's
capital Accra, killing at least nine.
Officials said more people than initially thought were still
trapped in the wreckage of the department store, which collapsed
due to suspected structural failure, but they declined to
provide an estimate.
"The first 48 hours are very critical and it is my hope that
we'd be able to reach anybody trapped down there as soon as
possible," Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama said at a news
conference near the collapsed building.
Accra is in the midst of a construction boom spurred by
oil-fuelled economic growth, but building standards region-wide
are generally poor and enforcement is often lax.
Ghana authorities initially had estimated that around 55
people were inside the building when it collapsed on Wednesday
morning, but that figure was based on the number of employees
and did not factor in the number of shoppers too.
By Thursday afternoon, emergency personnel had pulled out 69
survivors and recovered nine bodies from the building, which
housed a mall operated by Indian retailer Melcom Ltd.
"It is now clear that more people were in the shop than
initially estimated, and it is difficult to tell the actual
numbers at this moment," Kofi Portuphy, the head of Ghana's
National Disaster Management Organisation, told Reuters.
He said a team from the Israeli Defence Forces had arrived
and was using trained sniffer dogs, concrete cutters and other
equipment to locate any remaining survivors.
"Certainly the conditions of any survivors down there will
be deteriorating and it is our hope to get them out as quickly
as we can," Portuphy said.
The ambulance service shuttling victims from the site to a
local hospital said survivors had sustained injuries of varying
degrees of seriousness.
President Mahama promised an inquiry into how the building's
owner was able to circumvent building codes, after it was
discovered that its construction had not been approved by city
"Drastic action will be taken and the city authorities are
going to be held responsible," he said. "Anyone found culpable
will face the full rigours of the law."
Investigators questioned an Accra building inspection
director and a Melcom official on Thursday and were still
seeking the building's owner, deputy Information Minister Samuel
Okudzeto Ablakwa told Reuters.
Running for election in December, Mahama cut short a
campaign tour to visit the site.
Melcom runs Ghana's biggest chain of retail department
stores and has some 20 shops nationwide. It said it rented the
collapsed building and had opened a store there in January.
It said it was closing all its shops in the capital on
Thursday as a mark of respect for the loss of lives.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Joe Bavier and