Hundreds Remain Locked-Out of Home as Engineers Investigate ‘Cracking’ Apartment

Hundreds of residents of a 38-story tower block in Sydney were asked to leave their homes on Dec. 28 for the second time in five days after cracks were discovered in the building on Christmas Eve.

The builder of the Sydney Opal Tower in Sydney Olympic Park, Icon, told residents in a heated meeting on Dec. 27 that they would have to vacate their homes again for up to 10 days to make way for an investigation of the building.

In a statement released on the afternoon of Dec. 27, Icon said in a statement sighted by the Sydney Morning Herald: “The building is structurally sound and the temporary relocation is a precautionary measure to allow engineers to work around the clock to comprehensively investigate and remediate the site in the quickest time frame possible.”

“The damaged section of the building has now been reinforced as a precautionary measure while a team of engineers carries out the investigation,” the statement said.

Icon said it would compensate the affected residents for their relocation to nearby hotels.

Many Not Allowed in Since Christmas

According to local reports, there was a single 6 metre by 3 metre concrete panel on the 10th floor of the building that had cracked. The panel is attached to two reinforced concrete columns that connect to 51 apartments on floors 1 to 36.

These 51 apartments have not yet been declared safe, and residents of these apartments have not been let in since Dec. 24, except to go back and collect pertinent items.

A resident of one of the 51 apartments said that when he returned to his apartment on Christmas, his apartment “looked like a war zone” and that his bed had been taken, according to The Daily Telegraph.

One angry resident demanded answers at Icon’s press conference.

“We have valuables in our apartments, we were asked to move all our valuables—it’s impossible,” she said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

“Ten days is just an estimation—so how long should we wait for a final result and can we have some fair treatment?” she asked.

The building investigation is being led by engineering firm WSP. WSP Australia and New Zealand chief executive Guy Templeton said that while the concrete crack was a failure, “the overall integrity of the building is sound,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

No Guarantees

Director of Icon, Julian Doyle, said he could not guarantee whether the residents would be allowed to return to their homes after the 10 day period.

“[Residents] need to leave now so we can investigate all parts of the building unobstructed, as quickly as possible,” he said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

“For us, [it’s about] getting the answer and determining what we need to do to not replicate what happened on level 10 and implement that as quickly as possible.

“The issue is expediency because, if we leave the residents in place, we’ll still be trying to get access to various areas of the building for the next three months.”

The NSW government has appointed two specialist investigators to lead an inquiry into the Opal Tower cracking.

NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts said that professors Mark Hoffman, Dean of Engineering at the University of NSW, and John Carter, Dean of Engineering at the University of Newcastle, will lead the investigation.

Roberts’s spokesman said the investigators will specifically look into the “basis of the failure” and the “immediate steps that need to occur to ensure the safety of this building and its occupants.” They will also make recommendations to reduce the risk of similar incidents occurring in the future, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Christmas Eve Evacuation

An evacuation alarm was raised around 2.45 p.m. on Dec. 24 when “cracking” was reported on the 10th floor of the building, The cracking had reportedly caused some shifts in the building’s structure.

Residents continued to hear cracking sounds on Dec. 24, forcing emergency services to evacuate the tower and neighbouring areas in anticipation that the building might collapse.

More than 3,000 people were evacuated from the 392-apartment building and its surroundings as a one-kilometre exclusion zone was put in place. Around 300 evacuees were residents of the building. They were not allowed back into their homes but were sent to an evacuation centre in central Sydney.

At about 12.30 a.m. on Dec. 25 local time, residents of the units that were declared safe were allowed to return. But 51 units were declared structurally unsafe, according to a police release.

The residents of the 51 units have not been allowed to return home since Dec. 24.

On Dec. 24, Police had to use heavy-duty equipment to break through doors that were jammed to rescue trapped residents. A resident of the building told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he had noticed changes to the doors earlier.

“A few days ago the doors looked different. Like they couldn’t close the doors properly. And you do feel it [movement] sometimes when there’s strong wind,” he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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