Five workers as a metal recycling plant were crushed to death when a 15ft-high concrete wall collapsed on top of them in a loading bay this morning.
A father-of-seven was amongst the victims, all said to hail from Gambia, who were crushed as they sifted through scrap metal.
A fire service spokesman said a section of the wall – which was made up of 1.5-tonne concrete blocks – gave way at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling in Nechells, Birmingham, apparently under the weight of metal piled against it.
A ten-strong specialist rescue team from West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service are working to recover the bodies.
The team, who work with specialist lifting and cutting gear, had been deployed to Oxfordshire, earlier this year when four men were killed during preparation work to demolish Didcot A Power Station. Only one of the bodies there has so far been recovered.
At least five or six of the concrete blocks are said to toppled on to the men, emergency workers said.
The victims, all agency workers, have been named locally as married Saibo Sillah, 42, from Edgbaston, Alimamo Jammeh, 42 and Bangaly Dukureh, and Ousman Jabbie, all from Aston, and married father-of-one Mohammed Jagana, from Winson Green, all in Birmingham.
Mr Jabbie was said to have only moved to the UK from Gambia a week ago. His wife and family were said to still be in north Gambia.
Paramedics desperately tried to free the men, including one who had suffered a heart attack, but all were confirmed dead at the scene.
Another man has been taken to nearby Heartlands Hospital with serious leg injuries. Police are now speaking to the families of those involved.
A friend of Mr Sillah, Manka Sawo, said: ‘I knew Saibo from the community centre on Raglan Road – we used to pray there.
‘This is a sad day. They are all from Gambia, some of them had moved to Spain for 15 or 20 years though before coming here.
‘They would come to work by bus. They were all on the minimum wage. Saibo has been in the UK for three years.’
A friend of Alimamo and Ousman said: ‘Ousman only moved over here a week ago and moved in with Alimamo.
‘He was waiting for his wife and family to come over, who are still in north Gambia.’
Alimamo’s nephew Karim Mannah said: ‘I don’t know anything, I just had information now.
‘At the moment I don’t have any clue. He worked here for almost three years.’
A son of one of the victims, who did not give his name, said: ‘My father has died.
‘I was working and I got a phone call. I just don’t know what happened.
‘I’m so sad, I can’t talk.’
The workers were part of an agency called Gold Lion Recruitment Ltd who hired them three years ago directly from Spain.
A worker who answered the phone at the company yesterday said: ‘I’m with the police currently and I have been told not to say anything.’
Staff member Matt Bowen posted a tribute to his colleagues on Facebook writing:
‘I hope you rest in peace lads, I truly do. Part of me is sorry I wasn’t in today the other half glad my son was poorly.
Words cannot describe the thoughts that are going though my head, let alone the lads that was in work today. My thoughts and prayers are with your families who you worked so hard for, God be with you brothers, heartbroken to say the least.’
Prime Minister David Cameron also took to social media and tweeted: ‘Shocked to hear about the tragedy in Birmingham. My thoughts are with the families of those involved.’
Speaking at the scene, Manka Sawo, a friend of the victim who survived, said: ‘I received a call earlier saying my friend was injured.
‘He has only got a broken leg, otherwise he’s fine.
‘They are all from Spain, but they are originally from Gambia.
‘They live around this area. I’ve asked the police for more information, but they’ve just said they’re securing the area now.’
A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said: ‘On arrival, ambulance crews found a wall that had collapsed.
‘Sadly, there was nothing that could be done to save the five men who had been working next to it.
‘A sixth man was partially trapped by the falling concrete but had managed to get out from the rubble himself.
‘He was treated at the scene by ambulance staff and the doctor from the air ambulance for a broken leg before he was taken to Heartlands Hospital for further treatment.’
An investigation into what happened is now underway. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been notified and are assisting officers at the scene.
Detective Superintendent Mark Payne, said: ‘We are still in the very early stages of this investigation to determine exactly what happened this morning.
‘Sadly five people have lost their lives and we have several teams of specialist officers supporting their families at this time.
‘This has been a very traumatic incident for those who were at the site this morning and we will continue to work alongside the HSE and the other emergency services at the scene.’
West Midlands Fire Service has said it is still unsure why the large concrete structure, which also contained metal, suddenly collapsed.
The rubble remains unstable and a special technical rescue unit is working at the scene with firefighters expecting their operation to take several hours.
The scene has been described as an ‘extremely challenging’ situation by the crews on the ground, who are using cutting equipment to search the collapsed structure.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Gary Taylor said: ‘Once the police have finished their initial examination of the scene, our absolute priority will be to ensure that the bodies of those who have lost their lives are recovered in the most timely and safe way possible, and with the utmost dignity and respect.’
A worker at nearby business MM Steel said: ‘We know a few of the guys who work over there so it’s come as a big shock.
‘We didn’t hear anything but word soon got around that five men had died.
‘There was a fire there a few months back so whether it’s anything structurally to do with the building since then, I don’t know.’
Lorry driver Slav Aniyu, 43, from Oldbury, West Mids., was on site when the tragedy happened.
He said: ‘We were reloading the recycling metal into containers which will go into China.
‘I was just about to leave and the guys said ‘stop’, Stop, nobody go anywhere, stay where you are.’
‘They said it was a major accident. One of the workers said the wall had crashed.
‘I saw one guy lying on the floor and paramedics were putting a mask on him and talking to him.
‘They were trying to resuscitate him. The police came and told me to leave the truck and escorted me out.’
Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, has called for answers to why this tragedy took place.
She said: ‘This is devastating news for the families of those killed and my thoughts and prayers go out to them.
‘The bodies of the victims must be recovered as quickly as possible but then there will be some serious questions to answer about what led to the deaths of these workers.
‘I understand that the Health and Safety Executive is on the scene and I hope they are able to complete their work as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
‘Nothing will bring their loved ones back but the families of those who have been killed will want answers, they will want to understand what has happened here.
‘I am extremely shocked that five lives have been cut short so abruptly like this.’
Hawkeswood Metal Recycling processes more than 500,000 tonnes of scrap metal each year.
The firm began trading more than 40 years ago and has a customer base that includes local authorities, major PLCs and smaller independent companies.
This is no the first time a shocking accident has hit the plant, a huge blaze engulfed 700-tonnes of scrap metal in February this year.
In July 2012 bosses at the site were fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £10,056 in costs after worker Ansumana Jammeh, 28, broke his arm after getting it trapped in a conveyor belt.