x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Air Wing patrols for rooftop shanties

Helicopters will patrol Abu Dhabi to spot illegal rooftop homes in the wake of a fire that began atop an apartment block.

A woman is rescued from the top of an apartment building that caught fire this week.
A woman is rescued from the top of an apartment building that caught fire this week.

ABU DHABI // Police helicopters will patrol the city to spot illegal rooftop structures in the wake of a fire that began in an apparently makeshift dwelling atop an apartment block. The Interior Ministry ordered the aerial inspections following the fire in the Airport Road building on Tuesday that forced the evacuation of several families. Two adults and a girl had to be rescued from the roof by helicopter.

The Interior Minister, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, yesterday ordered the Air Wing of the Abu Dhabi Police Department to begin helicopter sweeps of all city buildings to locate illegal rooftop dwellings. The Air Wing has been asked to take photos of any illegal structures to hand over to authorities so that they can be dismantled. The municipality has pledged to take strict action against property owners who violate building codes, and is investigating the blaze at the Fathima Supermarket building.

After 11 people were treated in hospital as a result of the fire, Col Othman al Tamami, the director of emergency and safety management at Abu Dhabi Police, criticised investors and building owners "who exploit rooftop building spaces for profit" and construct housing that lacks basic safety standards. Brig Omair Mohammed al Muhairi, director of the Capital Police Directorate, said yesterday that the Interior Minister ordered that the police be given all resources needed to carry out the aerial inspections.

"Emergency prevention is a priority in the Ministry of the Interior's strategy to safeguard human life and protect property. Members of the public are asked to co-operate with various government branches to promote the prosperity and development the UAE has been enjoying," said Brig al Muhairi. He warned people not to put their lives in danger by moving into rooftop dwellings, which are often made of substandard materials that are not resistant to fire.

Brig Muhairi said illegal additions to buildings caused rerouting of their electrical and plumbing systems and the structures were sometimes unreachable in emergencies. Firemen were unable to reach people stranded on the roof in Tuesday's fire because their ladders did not extend far enough. As a result, the three people stranded people had to be evacuated by a police and military helicopter. Nizar Hazeem, whose wife Busaina was one of those airlifted to safety, said on Wednesday he had endangered his family by renting the rooftop apartment.

The building manager, however, says the rooftop flats were built legally as part of the original construction. There are an estimated 60,000 buildings in Abu Dhabi. ealghalib@thenational.ae