x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Workers escape Deira collapse

Debris destroys dozen cars and litters street, but nobody is hurt Praveen Menon and Rasha Elass DUBAI // Falling glass and cracking walls provided enough warning for 21 workers to reach safety before a large section of a building under construction in Deira collapsed yesterday. No injuries were reported in the incident, which lasted about 40 minutes, destroying at least 12 cars and causing millions of dirhams in damage. It left shattered glass and debris strewn over the area.

Last night Dubai Police confirmed that the contractor of the commercial complex had been taken into custody after a part of the six-storey building collapsed on to the busy road heading to Sharjah. The rest of the structure remains intact. It had been expected to be open for business by next week, workers said yesterday. Brig Anas al Matroushi, the deputy director of the general department of rescue and operations, said at the scene that the contractor was being questioned and the cause of the collapse investigated.

It forced the closure of the Abu Hail road and other streets leading to the building, which is on Al Ittihad Road, on the corner of the street leading to Abu Hail popularly known as the Galadari interchange. "A total of 21 people were working on the building and all have been accounted for," Brig al Matroushi said. "We evacuated seven people first and the rest followed." Dubai Police confirmed there were no injuries. Eleven of the men were working inside the building while the others were outside, the statement said. It quoted a site manager as saying that the workers hurried out of the building after the walls started cracking and it became evident it would collapse. They told the police that the building started collapsing in stages, which is why all of them managed to escape unharmed.

"We used search dogs, infra-red cameras and other sophisticated equipment such as thermal scaners to check through the debris and found no evidence of anyone being trapped inside," Mr al Matroushi said. The foreman confirmed that no one was missing, he added. Witness accounts gathered from the location confirmed that walls on a section of the building started cracking gradually. That gave a warning to workers inside the building and people outside in the vicinity of the commercial complex. "I saw it cracking and glass pieces were falling from the windows. The workers came out running and then, within minutes, it collapsed," said Ahmed Khan, a private security guard.

A group of around seven Bangladeshi workers were among the men who were inside the building just minutes before it collapsed. "I have only God to thank for saving my life," said one of the workers, who preferred not to be named. The worker said that the building started shaking a little after 3pm and some of the glass windows fell and shattered. "I was on the seventh floor of the building when I got a call from my colleague asking me to run out."

Another worker said: "I was on the fourth floor. I called everyone as soon as I got out. One section of the building appeared to be cracking and shaking. Glasses and debris was falling. I knew it would collapse soon." He added that the section collapsed just 20 to 25 minutes after they left the building. Police said they received the first call at 3.26pm and immediately sent rescue squads to the scene, joined by squads from Dubai Civil Defence and ambulances.

The building was evacuated within minutes, as were neighbouring structures. Essa al Maidour, assistant director general for general projects affairs at Dubai Municipality, said initial reports suggested there may have been a failure of structural elements. "We have already appointed a technical committee to investigate the reasons behind this collapse. We have called on consultants and project managers to analyse this incident," said Mr Maidour, who is responsible for building safety in the emirate.

"Right now it appears to be a failure in the structural elements of the building. The concentration of the load was disproportionate and on one side of the building." He said that the fact that it was not a sudden collapse saved several lives. "It took the building around 40 minutes to come down. Luckily it did not fail suddenly." The committee will also analyse who was responsible for the failure. It is not yet clear if the person will face criminal charges.

Witnesses described their shock at seeing a building collapse in broad daylight on a busy street. "There was a loud sound first and we all thought it was some work going on. When we looked out we saw a cloud of smoke emanating from the area," said Hafiz Kutty, who was dining at a cafeteria when the building collapsed. Layers of dust, glass and construction waste covered the entire area, forcing traffic police to cordon off all the streets.

Mohammed Faisal, who had parked his Nissan Sunny in front of the building, was told about the collapse by his colleagues. "I heard the sound but was busy with work. Later someone told me that my car was destroyed," he said. "Steel bars had crushed the car completely." @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Marten Youssef