LAGOS, Nigeria – Construction of a high-rise building that collapsed in Lagos on Monday killing at least 20 people had been ordered halted earlier this year after inspectors found “abnormalities”, authorities said on Tuesday.
The 21-story structure was cordoned off in June after failing to meet structural specifications, Lagos State Deputy Governor Obafemi Hamzat said.
Workers were recently allowed to resume work on the high-rise, Mr Hamzat said, but on Tuesday it was no longer a construction site but a hectic rescue scene. A day earlier, the building had turned into a pile of concrete.
As many are still missing, government officials, security forces and volunteers came to the area while families crying and hugging nearby waited for news of their loved ones.
Sir. Hamzat did not specify what problems the inspectors found that had led them to order construction halted. “They saw some abnormalities,” he said, “so they shut it down for those things to be fixed.”
But the head of the Lagos State Building Control Agency, Gbolahan Oki, said the developer had used inferior material in the construction. “The materials he used, the reinforcement, are so awful,” said Mr. Oki to journalists.
The high-rise was one of three set up by Fourscore Homes, a Lagos-based real estate company. Repeated attempts to get hold of the company’s CEO, Femi Osibona, for a comment, were unsuccessful. And callers to a Fourscore phone line were told it “was no longer in operation.”
The collapsing structure was built on Gerrard Road in the exclusive Ikoyi district of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. High-rise apartments and exclusive duplexes are part of the landscape.
The disaster has renewed the investigation of a wave of building collapses in Nigeria’s rapidly growing financial center in recent years.
The Lagos state government said on Tuesday it was setting up an independent panel of professional engineering and architecture groups to investigate the recent collapse. As a first step, Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced that he had suspended Mr. Oki, the head of the building inspection agency.
Officials expressed assurances that the investigation would be thorough.
“We want to state that there will be no obscurity in the search for the truth of this incident,” Gbenga Omotoso, Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, said in a statement.
Both Mr Omotoso and the Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, said anyone found responsible would be prosecuted.
As of Tuesday, 20 deaths had been confirmed in the collapse. Nine people, all men, had been rescued, according to Lagos State officials.
Heavy rain on Monday night interrupted the search and rescue efforts, but on Tuesday excavators were back at work digging through the rubble.
Femi Adesina, a special adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, said in a statement that the president “looks with families who have lost loved ones.”
On Tuesday, Gerrard Road was cordoned off from car traffic. But a crowd of residents, along with relatives of the missing, crowded the area, shouting their dissatisfaction with the rescue efforts behind a barricade.
Authorities said a help desk would be set up at the scene for people seeking information about the missing.
But some in the crowd were impatient with the rescue effort and even tried to participate in it. They were stopped by security people.
“Those people chased us out, they didn’t allow us to work,” said a man who identified himself as Samson, recounting how he had been among the first to react when the building went into disrepair.
“We went in and they chased us out again,” he said. “They’re ruining everything.”
Ben Ezeamalu reported from Lagos, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya.Ismail Alfa | contributed reporting from Maiduguri, Nigeria.