An earthmover clears the debris of the collapsed Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board building at Tiruvottiyur in Chennai on Monday

An earthmover clears the debris of the collapsed Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board building at Tiruvottiyur in Chennai on Monday

24 Chennai families narrowly escape building collapse

“It was purely a stroke of luck that we were saved. I was the last to leave the building.

An earthmover clears the debris of the collapsed Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board building at Tiruvottiyur in Chennai on Monday
An earthmover clears the debris of the collapsed Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board building at Tiruvottiyur in Chennai on Monday

CHENNAI: They escaped by a matter of mere minutes. Residents of 24 Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board tenements in Tiruvottiyur barely had enough time to leave the building — less than five minutes after the last person made it out, the entire D Block crumbled on Monday morning.

“It was purely a stroke of luck that we were saved. I was the last to leave the building. Three or four minutes later, I saw it fall,” said Pavithra L, a housewife. Her husband works at a private firm nearby.
“It’s not just about seeing your home of several years turn to dust; we had to leave behind all the possessions we painstakingly accumulated over the years. I lost all my original certificates too,” she added. All 24 families lost their belongings, including important documents.

The Grama Street tenements have 336 houses, and were constructed between 1992 and 1995. Apart from the 24 houses of the block that collapsed, four from the adjacent block were partially damaged. Residents of the adjacent block too have been evacuated.

There were no signs of impending collapse, other than cracks: Residents

It was a hunch of TM Thaniyarasu, a former councillor, that prevented loss of life. Called to visit the building in the morning by residents complaining about cracks in the structure, Thaniyarasu asked them to immediately evacuate sensing the building wouldn’t stand for long.

When it collapsed at 10.15am, his instincts were proved right. Residents said there were no glaring signs of an impending collapse, other than the cracks that began developing around Friday last week. Even then, they said the cracks in the building, didn’t seem life-threatening. “Just five days ago, our block looked like any other in the premises.

Only on Monday did we notice that the kitchen shelves had shifted from their original positions and were showing signs of falling apart. We decided to leave everything behind and rush out,” said Puppy D, another resident of D block. After the collapse, several residents of other blocks in the tenements were seen waiting outside their homes for officials to confirm it was safe to step inside.

Senior Urban Habitat Development Board (formerly called Slum Clearance Board) officials told TNIE the families might immediately be shifted to the KP Park tenements at Pulianthope, if they are willing. Officials said they would seek for the adjacent block to be demolished and rebuilt, and the quality of the other blocks will be audited.

“In the meantime, we have identified three community halls nearby to shift the families. We will make arrangements for food today and tomorrow (Monday and Tuesday),” the official said, adding that funds were recently allotted for repairing infrastructure at the Grama Street tenements. A few residents asked for houses in Tiruvottiyur’s Ellaiamman Koil Street, which is closer to their former homes, but officials said the houses there are not yet ready.

Chief Minister MK Stalin, in a statement, said the families that lost their houses in the collapse would get `1 lakh each as compensation, and steps would be taken to collect information on old residential quarters and take safety precautions immediately. Activists stressed the need to have a third-party auditing system to check the quality of such dwellings across the State.

“There is a need for a permanent mechanism in the TNUHDB to initiate regular thirdparty audits of tenements across the State, prioritising older tenements, with a specific timeframe for demolition and reconstruction of dilapidated tenements with community participation,” said Vanessa Peter, founder, IRCDUC.

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