A South African survivor of The Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) building collapse last month who joined the frantic rescue mission has shared his own experiences regarding the immediate aftermath of the tragic incident.
Jonty Cloete (47), a property consultant with paramedic training from Mossel Bay, South Africa was inside the church auditorium when the guesthouse imploded.
“We knew that there were many people in there, most of them South Africans,” Jonty told South Africa’s Eye Witness News. “We were five groups there at the time, so there were over 350 people.”
Surveying the mangled, unrecognisable remains of the six storey structure, Jonty feared the worst. “With six stories on top of them, you don’t know what to expect,” he said when asked of his initial reaction.
Quickly offering his services, Mr Cloete joined the immense rescue operation that ensued. "I had no hesitation and offered to help. With my paramedic background, I went to the paramedic team and joined.”
Jonty was quick to counter insinuations that a lack of empathy and efficiency from The SCOAN hampered the crucial rescue mission.
“After that initial confusion and shock, I saw effectiveness; I saw people went in and quickly sorted themselves out. The first day we rescued 75 people,” he recalled, adding that the reports which suggested rescuers were prohibited from the disaster site were untrue.
"The discipline and organizational capacity of the church and its followers were phenomenal. Immediately the churches own 11 ambulances were used to take survivors to the 10 hospitals in the area to be treated,” he continued, pointing out that Prophet T.B. Joshua had only acquired the ambulances several months earlier.
Despite the huge death toll, Jonty highlighted the miracles of the survivors, maintaining that the fatalities could have been significantly higher ‘if not for God’.
"Every day, wonderful stories of rescue and survival from the rubble emerged. The story of the woman who came out after five days was probably the most gripping. Miracles from God were really happening," he said.
Jonty concluded that despite the initial confusion and shock, “it was disaster management at its best”, adding that “I would like to believe that people did what they could and it was all in God’s hands.”