six-storey shopping mall collapsed in the Ghanaian capital Accra on Wednesday, with at least three people so far confirmed dead and dozens of victims feared trapped, sparking desperate rescues.
Police said around 50 employees were reported to be in the building before the collapse on Wednesday morning. It was not immediately clear if customers were also inside, with one worker saying the mall had yet to open.
President John Dramani Mahama suspended his campaign ahead of December 7 elections and offered prayers for those trapped. Thousands thronged the site, including family members in search of relatives.
“My son, my son, my son! My son is going to die! Get him for me! He is my only son!” one woman could be heard screaming.
Assistant Police Superintendent Freeman Tettey told journalists that three people had so far been confirmed dead and six rescued, as workers rushed to find those buried with the west African heat bearing down.
“According to information that I gathered when I got here, about 50 employees were in the building before it collapsed,” Tettey said.
Family members could be seen at the site attempting to call relatives who may be trapped, while scores of rescue workers at the scene sought to clear debris and get oxygen masks to victims.
A man who saw his brother being put in an ambulance on a stretcher yelled out in agony: “He can’t move! He can’t move!”
The cause of the collapse of the Melcom shopping mall in the centre of the capital was not immediately clear. Workers from a nearby construction site were urgently called over to help dig through the rubble.
“They said, ‘please bring equipment’,” said one of the construction workers, Camille Moukarzel.
Stephen Ansah, a Melcom employee from another branch, said he had spoken with someone buried who had said he needed water.
“They are suffering,” he said. “The heat is too much.” President Mahama issued a brief statement on his Twitter account about the disaster, saying: “My prayers are with the workers, shoppers and others who are trapped in the rubble of the collapsed Achimota Melcom building.”
Another tweet from his account said he was suspending his campaign ahead of the presidential and parliamentary polls next month because of the disaster. “President John Mahama suspends his campaign tour of the Northern Region in the wake of the Achimota Melcom disaster,” it said.
Police rushed to the scene and were still seeking to confirm details while soldiers worked to help maintain order.
“They are still working to get to the root of the building,” Assistant Superintendent Juliana Obeng told AFP. “Meanwhile we have sent ambulances to the scene.”
“I was very close to the mall because I was going to buy something, only for me to see the building coming down. “I had to run for my life. I was so terrified. I believe there are lots of people trapped under this because this is a heavily patronised shopping mall in the area.”
Another witness said he heard a bang followed by the building falling in. “I was on my way to school and all of a sudden heard a big bang and people shouting, only for me to see that the shopping mall has collapsed,” said John Owusu.
The Melcom Group of Companies, based in Ghana, includes extensive retail outlets, according to its website.
Ghana — a country of some 20 million people and a major producer of gold and cocoa which began significant oil production in 2010 — is viewed as a success story in often turbulent west Africa and a rare example of a relatively stable democracy in the region.