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An exhaustive rescue operation to find missing construction workers trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building in South Africa is ending after nearly two weeks, with 19 people still unaccounted for. The death toll from the collapse of the unfinished five-story apartment complex in George, South Africa, on May 6 currently stands at 33, but is expected to rise to over 50 as the operation transitions to recovery. The decision to end the rescue operation was made by the George municipality and its disaster response unit, who do not expect to find anyone else alive in the debris and presume that the remaining 19 workers who have been missing for 12 days are dead.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the collapsed building to show support for the victims’ families, emergency workers, and others who have been on site for more than 250 hours, working day and night in shifts to try and find survivors. The tragedy, one of South Africa’s worst building collapses, occurred when the unfinished building collapsed with 81 workers on site. Of those, 29 survivors were pulled from the rubble, some of whom remain hospitalized. More than 600 emergency responders and other personnel were involved in the search in the days following the collapse, although the team has since been scaled down.

Among the thousands of tons of concrete that collapsed, there were stories of remarkable survival, including a man who was found alive after being trapped for six days without food and water, with only minor injuries. As the rescue operation ends, the building will be handed over to the national department of employment and labor for investigation into the collapse. Multiple other investigations, including by the police and the provincial Western Cape government, will also be conducted. Many of the workers involved were foreign nationals from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.

The construction contractors responsible for the building have come under scrutiny, and investigations will examine whether they adhered to safety standards. The building was slated to be completed in July or August. Overall, the building collapse in South Africa has been a devastating tragedy, with the confirmed death toll at 33 and expected to rise above 50 as the recovery and clean-up operation begins. Despite the efforts of over 600 emergency responders and volunteers working tirelessly over the course of two weeks, the decision has been made to end the rescue operation as hopes of finding additional survivors fade.

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