A man who has been overseeing works on a site where a storied building collapsed in Jinja district has allegedly gone into hiding, police say.
The two-floor storied building located on Plot 17 Gokhale Road caved in on Wednesday at around 5pm, leaving two people dead and scores still trapped.
Out of the 37 workers who are believed to have been on duty when the building collapsed, only three (deceased), eight (admitted at Jinja Hospital), two who sought treatment elsewhere and four who survived with minor injuries, are accounted for.
By Thursday afternoon, police had sourced two more excavators from Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) to help one that was on Wednesday provided by Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) to try and dig up more survivors or bodies from the debris.
But while this continued with desperation, the Kiira regional police Spokesperson, Ms Diana Nandaula, said the supervisor, only identified as Yassin and site engineer, whose names were not readily availed, are being sought.
“We are mainly looking for Yassin to provide us with a list of all the workers who were on site before the building collapsed so that we tick against the 16 who have so far been accounted for,” she said.
It is alleged that the structural engineer of the building – owned by a Jinja-based business tycoon of Somali origin identified as Abdul Samali - died two months ago.
According to Ms Nandaula, police lack excavators the reason most of the (retrieval) works have delayed; but is optimistic that works are now on track with the addition of an excavator from Unra.
Survivors narrate ordeal
Meanwhile two men who survived with injuries have recounted events that led to the collapse of the building, with one of them saying he had just got the job and that was the first day he reported for duty.
Mr Bakali Balikoowa, 35, a finisher and Meddie Kizito, 32, a mason, were on Thursday morning summoned to the police station to make a statement on what exactly happened.
Police is said to have summoned them on account that they are ‘the most able-bodied ones who can speak’.
The duo had on Wednesday been rushed to Jinja hospital from where they were allegedly told that they couldn’t be helped because the number of patients was overwhelming and they decided to seek help at a clinic in Mafubira on the outskirts of Jinja Town.
Mr Kizito, who is still complaining of headache and back ache, said the accident found him on the second floor of the building.
“I first felt what I thought was an earthquake, and then suddenly, the house started sinking bit-by-bit,” he said.
Adding: “I think I momentarily blacked out because I found myself on a boda boda destined to where I later learnt was Jinja hospital. Unfortunately, when we got there, people were many and there were wails everywhere and I decided to proceed to Mafubira.”
On his part, Mr Balikoowa, until the accident, said he was selling bogoya in Madhivani market and had just reported to work for the first time on that fateful day.
“On Tuesday, I approached Yassin, asking him to get me something to do and he asked me to report to the site the next day (Wednesday). I was happy and reported by 7am.
“It was a good day, people were busy and the mood was that they had to beat a deadline. Since I had just reported, I didn’t know what deadline it was.
“I am, however, grateful to God that I have survived only that my motorcycle UDJ 581Y remains trapped in the debris. I hope the owner of the building compensates me,” he said.
It remains unclear what led to the collapse of the building as police are yet to release an official statement.
However, Mr Simon Kasirye, one of the residents, attributed the collapse of the building to poor workmanship. “They used little cement and iron bars,’’ he said.
Unverified reports from an anonymous survivor suggest that they were mixing six wheelbarrows full of sand with a single bag of cement.
Experts speak out
The Communications Officer of Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (UIP), Mr Aldon Walukamba, has attributed the accident to shoddy work by unscrupulous local contractors that have infiltrated the profession.
“We have quacks in the profession because most of them are not registered, something that impact on the civil works. By law, to practice as an engineer, technologist and technician, you must be registered with the Engineers’ Registration Board (ERD); there are very many engineers but about 1,100 are registered,’’ he said.
According to Mr Walukamba, the only way Ugandans can be safe is to employ professionals which will reduce on the rate at which buildings collapse because they are poorly built.
The ERB Chairperson, Dr Michael Odongo, recently said they were working with the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) to regulate the engineering training curriculum because the quality of engineers being produced by the universities and technical colleges around the country is wanting.
Mr Bernard Muwaya, one of the workers on the collapsed building, said construction of the building started in January 2018 and it had reached the finishing stage.
Third body has been recovered from the first floor of the collapsed building, with police saying they expect more bodies to be retrieved after another excavator was sourced to help in the retrieval.
By press time, UPDF had significantly increased its presence at the scene to allegedly guard the metal bars that are being targeted by unscrupulous people for scrap.