About 8.20pm on Sunday, nearly 200 residents were ordered to leave their homes after a 1,400-square-metre slab of concrete from a courtyard collapsed onto an underground car park in the Al Rayyana residential development on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi city. The details are still sketchy, but it was a miracle that nobody was injured or killed.
The residents - 194 teachers employed by Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and their families - were, understandably, shaken. "We were watching television and we heard a loud bang," one woman told The National. "We went outside to see what it was and someone said the courtyard collapsed."
Emergency services responded well to the incident. Police and Civil Defence staff were quickly on hand to assess the damage, while representatives of the developer, Sorouh, evacuated five buildings surrounding the courtyard, oversaw the disconnection of gas and electricity services, and held a roll call to make sure everybody was accounted for. They later booked the affected families into a hotel, and Adec has said it will find permanent accommodations for them.
But it could have been a very different outcome if anybody had been in the courtyard when it collapsed, or any of the crushed cars had been occupied. Aside from the property damage, both residents and the property developer were lucky in this case.
That is all the more reason to learn from this incident and prevent similar ones in the future. In a statement released yesterday, Sorouh pledged to work closely with Civil Defence to investigate the incident, to commission an independent inquiry and to follow through on any recommendations.
Any inquiry should be broader - assuring confidence in the property sector is a national priority. Concerns about building standards are already heightened following last week's revelation that two thirds of high-rise buildings in Abu Dhabi have facades made with materials that could be flammable.
The property sector is essential to the diversification of the UAE economy, and building safety standards must be enforced at the highest standard. Continued transparency is essential to this process. Investors and homebuyers must be told why this incident happened, and how similar accidents will be avoided in the future.
These questions deserve urgent answers, but there is also a need for long-term action to ensure we can all be confident that the highest building standards are developed and enforced.