Kenya building collapse could have been avoided

October 29, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 29 – Details have now emerged about how a foreman at the ill-fated Kiambu building ignored warnings by construction workers hours before the five-storey structure crumbled killing 16 people.

The words “go back and focus on your work” were perhaps a careless and indifferent attitude that led to the deaths and injuries to scores of others.

Walter Onyango who survived the incident but whose brother died in the disaster told Capital News that about four hours before the building collapsed, he and a group of other workers told one of the three foremen about the poor state of the building under construction but he disregarded them.

“There were about four columns and two of them had huge cracks. We sealed one of them and called the foremen. However when he got there he accused us of being busy bodies and told us to go back to our work. So we left and went back to work. That was about 11am,” he narrated.

He said that some minutes after 3pm the building started caving in before it finally collapsed.

“There were about five of us upstairs. Four people were on one side and I was on the other side welding. Then I noticed it had gotten a bit dark and when I looked up to see what was happening, the side my colleagues were on had already sunk. I moved a bit only to notice the staircase was also gone. I woke up on this hospital bed,” he explained with a forlorn look on his face when we visited him at Kiambu Hospital where he is undergoing treatment for a broken thigh bone.

Gilbert Mugendi who lost a sister and a niece in the tragedy claimed that workers who were at the building at the time of its collapse were a new lot as the previous ones had left after discovering the building was fast approaching disaster.

“The building developed cracks immediately after construction began and workers would come and fill them up. Those who were there from the start worked last on Saturday saying they couldn’t work in such conditions as it was dangerous. Come Monday, those who turned up for work were a new lot and the cracks had worsened,” said Mr Mugendi.

He also claimed that the foreman had fired some other workers who had warned him of imminent danger at the building.

“Vile aliambiwa nyumba inaenda alisimamisha watu wengine kazi (Some people lost their jobs after telling the foreman that the building would collapse). They quit and ended up saving their lives,” he added.
Mr Mugendi thanked Kiambaa MP Stanley Githunguri and the government for giving them Sh10,000 and Sh20,000 respectively to help them settle hospital and other expenses incurred after the disaster.

“The money we got will help us with funeral and burial expenses. However the owner of the building should still be forced to take up some of the expenses.  My sister has two young children who have been placed under my care. I will have to shoulder their expenses and I am only a manual labourer,” Mr Mugendi complained.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Mr Onyango however said he had not received any money and asked the government to assist families and victims of the disaster.

“Hon Kalonzo Musyoka and Beth Mugo paid us a visit in hospital. They promised to buy me the metal rod (which costs Sh40,000) to re-join my thigh bone. But from that day I haven’t seen anything. My brother’s body is in the morgue. Is there any way we can get assistance?” he posed.  

They both called on the government to tighten its building and construction regulations to prevent such disasters from striking again. Mr Onyango was one of the new construction workers at the site.
Sources revealed that there were three foremen at the building but their whereabouts so far remain unknown.

According to experts, several factors can cause a building, dam, bridge, stadium, or other major structural collapse.  Some of the major aspects include: bad design, faulty construction, foundation failure, extraordinary loads, unexpected failure or a combination of these. When a major structural collapse occurs, it is important to investigate the cause of the collapse to make sure that it does not happen again.

The building owner and architect have already been arraigned in court and charged with manslaughter of the 16 victims.


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