One person has died and up to 50 people are feared trapped after a partially-constructed shopping centre collapsed in Durban, South Africa.

The accident happened in Tongaat, near the eastern coastal city on Tuesday. Those reported trapped were working on the building at the time.

Witness Fiona Mooneal, who lives across a railway line from the construction site, was standing in her kitchen when the three-storey building collapsed as though it had been dynamited.

"It was like when you blow up a building, a bomb. That sound was terrible," she said. 

Police spokeswoman Mandy Govender said one person was confirmed dead and at least 26 people had been pulled from the rubble.

"Most of those still trapped inside the building were construction workers," said Govender.

It is not yet clear what caused the collapse though Deputy Mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala indicated that safety regulations might have been flouted.

Law not followed 

"There are areas of the law that they did not following terms of building this infrastructure," Shabalala told broadcaster ECNA. "We were not aware that they were continuing building." 

Emergency paramedics at the scene used sniffer dogs and specialist equipment to find survivors under the vast broken plinth of concrete and mesh of reinforcing bars.

"In all my years as a paramedic I have never seen anything like this," said one rescue worker, running to the site carrying
oxygen canisters. Others used hydraulic jacks to lift the slabs and grinders to cut through the metal.

Dean MacPherson, of Crisis Medical Durban, told Al Jazeera that the roof collapsed, triggering four floors beneath to also collapse.

Chris Botha, a spokesman for emergency responders in the area, told the agency that the figure had not been confirmed. Firefighters were responding to the emergency.

If safety regulations were not followed the accident could hurt the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as it moves towards elections next year.

Durban and the surrounding area is home of President Jacob Zuma, as a result the region has enjoyed a construction boom in the last few years based on government investments.

The ANC is expected to win elections next year, although the vote is likely to taper with incidents such as the killing of 34 strikers at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine last year which has fuelled a sense that the ANC is neglecting Nelson Mandela's dream of a just society from the ashes of the apartheid.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies