A building that collapsed in Douala, Cameroon’s Economic capital, has resulted in a steady increase in the number of deaths. With an initial report of five deaths at the start of the tragedy, the numbers have gone up astronomically over the last 24 hours.
MMI’s Washira Helene visited the site of the incident on Sunday 23, 2023 and found what was once a 4-storey building, now a rubble of blocks and debris, from within which human remains were being pulled out.
She reports that in the early hours of Sunday at Cite Sicam neighbourhood behind Mobile Guinness the building collapsed — and at the time she arrived at the scene, more than 40 people dead and dozens in the hospital under critical conditions. Meanwhile, a rescue operation was still underway. “At least 40 people have died, and we are worried that there will be more victims,” said Allan Tsi,” one of the witnesses.
The level of destruction is enormous, and investigations and searches are still underway. There are fears that the death toll could be more as many are still missing.
According to inhabitants of the neighbourhood, the accident occurred at exactly 1 a.m. on Sunday 23 July.
“I can not really figure out what happened because I was easing myself at that time when I heard a heavy strange noise accompanied by voices screaming. I quickly ran out to check just to find out that it was a building in my neighbourhood collapsing,” one of the eyewitnesses told MMI.
The four-storey building according to another had 70 – 80 single rooms with apartments and was constructed over 20 years ago. It has been referred to as “Immeuble de la mort” (building of death) due to its poor construction and frequent reports of structural problems.
Several buildings in Douala have been baptized as “Immeuble de la mort” (building of death) because of their nature and non-respect of building regulations. This is one of them located in Akwa, Douala. Residents around here continue to live in constant fear.
Rising death toll
“Even those living in the building knew the building was a risky one. The building was one which you just look at and know it’s a dangerous one. Still, people will go and rent it. It is rather unfortunate what happened to them,” said a mother who has been living in the neighbourhood for more than 20 years.
The minimum number of people living in the building ranges between 80-100 because some holidaymakers came visiting their relatives in the city. The number of dead is also this high because one of the apartments was hosting a party with people from different neighbourhoods as invitees, a witness told MMI.
The building also had a basement which till now has not been accessed by the rescue team. “People were restricted from living in the basement because of its risky state. It was always swampy but people still preferred to stay there,” added Angele, a nearby resident.
“We have people in the basement who might be dead by now due to suffocation. People were restricted from staying in it because it was always flooded and the basement itself has more than 20 single rooms,” Angele who has been at the scene since 5 am on Sunday told MMI.
The firefighters, gendarmerie, and council police have been trying all they can to rescue more people which so far, has been a herculean task as many dead bodies keep surfacing.
Rescue efforts underway
At the time of this report, the governor Samuel Dieudonne Ivahava Diboua visited the accident site twice. The Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Celestine Ketcha Courtes has also been to the area, to assess the rate of damage.
“It is quite unfortunate what happened. A lot of lives have been lost with many currently receiving treatment at the hospital” said Gorvenor Diboua.
“The competent forces of law, firefighters who are here will continue digging till others are found,” he added.
Courtes also sympathised with the victims and praised the efforts of the rescue team. “My condolences to the bereaved families and quick recovery to injured victims. An enquiry commission will be put in place to establish responsibilities and ensure that such a tragedy never takes place again. This is getting too much and this should not happen in our beautiful cities if construction regulations were respected,” Courtes wrote on Twitter.
The incident is still under investigation, and it is believed that the building may have either been overloaded or plagued with structural defects. “The building was reportedly constructed with cheap materials and had not been properly maintained,” a source who refused to be named told MMI.
“How can someone with a brain build a building of such magnitude with such cheap materials,” a technician who spoke to MMI confirmed.
The collapse of the “Immeuble de la Mort” is a tragedy that has claimed the lives of many innocent people. It is also a reminder of the importance of respecting building laws and safety regulations.
The government also have the duty to ensure that every building in Cameroon is constructed with strict respect for the laws in place, to avoid a similar catastrophe in future.
Washira Helene, reporting from Douala for MMI