Dozens injured as arcade collapses on to skating rink

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The Independent Online

Twenty-one people, including an eight-month-old girl, were injured in South Africa yesterday when a first-floor shopping arcade collapsed on to an ice rink underneath it.

Some 300 police, soldiers, fire officers and paramedics using helicopters were called to the Kolonnade shopping centre north of Pretoria after the collapse at around 4.30pm local time. A police spokesman said sniffer dogs sent in within half an hour of the collapse had found no traces of people trapped beneath rubble.

The shopping centre had been thronged with Christmas shoppers and the ice rink was packed with children on Christmas holiday.

Gerna van Rooyen, a spokeswoman for the centre, said the collapse of the seven-year-old shopping arcade's floor had been gradual, allowing most of the ice skaters below to escape.

''There was no building work going on, as has been reported, but we are considering the possibility that heavy rains we have experienced of late somehow caused instability in the foundations,'' she said. She said between three and five of the 21 injured people were children and that most had sustained broken bones and bruises. "The baby girl has suffered cuts and bruises,'' she said.

Panic spread as glass and debris flew through the air and the scene quickly turned into a muddy mess. Witnesses described injured and frightened children and shoppers shouting and pleading for help.

A portion of the ice rink below the newly opened phase three of the centre was destroyed. The only warning was "a rumbling," said Aubrey Welken, who was in the centre at the time. He and two friends pulled two young girls ­ about seven or eight years old ­ from the rubble, suffering scratches themselves.

Cathy Jones, an employee of the clothing store Pink, situated above the ice rink, said: "The floor started to shake and the lights flickered like an earthquake." The ceiling caved in and she rolled herself into a ball. Then the floor gave way and she fell though. "There was a lot of glass, people in the centre came running to help us," she said.

Most people who were injured said they were watching children skating when the roof crashed down. Matilda Mphai, who managed to make her way out of the centre with her eight-year-old son, said: "Just before the roof came down there was a noise which sounded like an explosion, a part of the roof came crashing down and within seconds another piece came down.

"There was pandemonium. People were screaming and visibility was poor because of all the dust."

Ms van Rooyen said the centre's managers had no idea how the accident happened. The centre, which opened seven years ago, has undergone renovations and extensions. The part that collapsed opened a few weeks ago. The centre caters for about 40,000 shoppers a day.