AL AIN // Organisers of the market which collapsed in strong winds on Sunday night said the tent structure was inadequately secured to the ground, but blamed the providers of the tent and said authorities should provide better regulation of temporary structures.
The tent collapsed at about 9pm on Sunday with more than 1,000 people inside as winds from a storm gusted at up to 130 kph.
Dozens of shoppers and stallholders were injured, although officials said yesterday that previous claims of a fatality were incorrect. Last night three people were still in Al Ain hospital - a Saudi, an Omani and an Asian woman. All had broken bones caused by falling metal poles.
Osama Burhan, the event manager, said engineers checking the structure after the collapse had told him that too few steel pegs had been used to secure stands holding the metal tent poles in place.
Mr Burhan said he had not checked the structure but did not believe that this should have been his concern. That, he said, fell to Al Khaleej Tents, which provided and erected the tent.
"When the municipality did inspections [after the collapse], they found each pole was fixed with two pegs," he said. "When I asked engineers [from the municipality and elsewhere], they said it should have been fixed with six pegs.
He said engineers had also told him the pegs were too short - between 40cm and 60cm long, rather than the 120cm needed for the sandy soil.
Civil Defence officials had passed the tent as fit for use, checking for fire extinguishers and adequate exits, but their remit did not include determining whether it was structurally sound.
"Of course the Civil Defence came," said Islam Burhan, Mr Burhan's son, who was also involved in running the market. "We cannot get the licence to operate without this inspection. But they don't check on the tent itself."
Mohamed al Kilbani, the manager of Al Khaleej Tents in Al Ain, said the collapse was not down to any failing by his company. "It was just strong wind," he said.
Previously the market, which runs for a month three or four times a year, has been held on a site in front of the city's wedding halls. This time it was held in a newly erected tent near fast-food restaurants in the Khabisi area.
"We held our exhibitions in the other Al Khaleej tent for the past five years," he said. "That tent is fixed and there were never any problems there.
"But then someone from the licensing department said we cannot hold it there this time, and we need to find a new location.
"So we asked the municipality if they approved of this location, and they said yes. We knew about this change only 20 days before the exhibition opened."
The new tent, he said, had taken a week to erect.
He said it was possible that winds around the new site were stronger than in the old location, which was heavily shielded by surrounding buildings.
The municipality is now conducting an investigation, which, according to Mr Burhan Sr, will determine whether stallholders will be able to claim for their losses.
Mr Burhan Sr said he had lost Dh450,000 in rent because of the collapse, but merchants had lost much more.
"Shopkeepers lost maybe over Dh1 million in merchandise," he said. "They want compensation, but my insurance does not cover natural disasters, only fire and theft. But thank God no one died."
"Sunday evening was ladies' night," he said. "A lot of women here like to come at this time. There were 160 shops in there and about 1,500 people."
His son has visited some of the injured people in hospital and Mr Burhan Sr plans to check on the few who remain there.
Emad Ezeldean, an Egyptian who was inside the tent when it collapsed, said: "It all happened in minutes. Strong wind made the roof of the left side of the tent break, air collected inside and the left side became like a boat. Everything left went flying; the main poles collapsed.
"As soon as this happened someone tore the tent with a knife to make quick exits, and the other exits were opened."
He said that power to the tent was cut as soon as the roof collapsed to prevent fire.
"The local women and all others were helped to leave quickly," he said. "Everyone was screaming, everyone was in shock."
Mr Burhan said tent operators needed clearer construction guidelines. Without these, he said, "there is no system for them to follow. How will we know who is wrong?"