UPA (Utanian Press Agency)
Release: May 14, 301 AP.

Building collapse kills thirteen

Thirteen people have lost their lives in the country's first building collapse since independence, and worst in three years.

It was a little after 12 noon on Mother's Day Sunday, while the first people returned from church services in the Utanian capital of Utan Krysaror, the apartment building shook under the vibration from a nearby construction site and simply collapsed, trapping three or more dozen people under the rubble of the nine storey building.

Emergency workers were quick to the scene, as were dozens of passing people in the close-knit neighbourhood of Yalles in the city's poorer south-west. Seven people were rescued from the debris in the first few minutes, from old women badly injured to mildly injured children, still clutching their teddies and dolls. Then, the dead began to arrive, as emergency workers and locals worked through tears to pull away the concrete and rubble to free the living and the dead.

In all, eleven were found dead, two have succumbed to their injuries and twenty-nine have been rescued, though rescue efforts have continued into the night with as many as fourteen people still not accounted for.

Locals have been quick to point the finger at the local council administration. The building was funded under a federal government rejuvenation of the capital city, replacing the slum-dwellings with modern but cheap apartment buildings. The responsibility for construction lay with the Utani B'yan state government and the government-parties dominated Waverley City Council.

"I know who to blame", says Ahenya Tokara, a local manufacturing worker, with most distraught Utani speech. Tokara lost his twelve year old daughter to the building. "The local council, the bureaucrats. They hastily built this building to succeed in getting extra funding, but it is we asrunga (lit. little people) who will pay the price!" He wishes he had stayed in the slums. "At least there the worst disaster is a steel sheet falling on your head."

Preliminary investigations do indeed show that the building was constructed as part of a Û70 million fund to replace the slums with apartment buildings in late 299. This nine-storey building was finally occupied by fifty families in May, a mere three months after construction began. One year later, the vibration from another such construction appears to have caused the collapse of this one. The federal government has allocated over Û1 billion to housing construction and slum-removal. Û80,000 is allocated per apartment for the construction, so buildings have rarely exceeded ten storeys, being about fifty or sixty families, or Û4 to 5 million each. There have been in excess of two hundred such developments in the poorer areas of Utan Krysaror, particularly under the Waverley and Uraja councils, all completed within fourteen months, and housing a total of about eighty thousand people. Unfortunately, this is only about 14% of the slum housing.

It will not be the first time that Council construction codes have come under scrutiny. Council officials were on site within three hours to commence an investigation, downplaying the role of the nearby construction in the collapse, instead focusing on whether the residents hadn't illegally overloaded the weight limits on the building.

Then, last night, President Okarvits despatched Philip Stanson MP, the Health and Social Services Minister (there is no housing minister in the current cabinet, and the funding was provided directly out of President Hope's contingency budget), to launch a federal investigation. Building experts have been flown in from Luka to assess the situation.

It may be weeks before the cause is known. While locals grieve, and sleep in makeshift homes in neighbouring buildings, politicians and officials will argue and debate, and write the experience off as a failure rate of 0.5%. To be expected in a city as large as this one.

©UPA, 301 AP.

©Mike Ham, 2001. All rights reserved. No reproduction without, at least, tacit approval. ;-)