‘Absolute chaos’: Residents evacuated from public housing tower in England | ET REALITY


Shaban Ali has lived in a public housing tower in Bristol, south-west England, for seven years. On Tuesday, the plan was to stay home: have dinner, take a bath and watch “Paddington” with his two young children.

Instead, they and other Barton House residents were ordered to pack a bag and immediately evacuate the building over concerns with the structural integrity of the building.Authorities said Wednesday..

“It was absolute chaos,” said Ali, 36, secretary of ACORN Bristol, a union that has campaigned for local tenants.

The abruptness of the evacuation order left hundreds of residents struggling to find a place to sleep, he said. Some went to City Hall, which the city had designated as a temporary shelter, according to a statement from Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees. And some stayed in the tower, worried about leaving their belongings behind.

Mr. Ali sent his children to his mother’s house. But unable to find a place to go, he ended up staying. “I was up all night,” he said. “Our lives are all up in the air.”

The evacuation has drawn renewed attention to the construction of public housing high-rises in Britain. Flammable cladding banned in many other countries contributed to the rapid spread of one of Britain’s deadliest residential fires, in London in 2017. The Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people and left hundreds homeless, caused a nationwide reckoning on security measures and the construction of tall buildings. -tall buildings. Critics have accused governments of prioritizing cost-cutting over safety, and housing advocates in London and elsewhere have since raised concerns about other buildings.

In Bristol, where a fire broke out in a public housing tower last year killed one person and injured others, city officials said they had ordered the evacuation of Barton House as a “precautionary measure” after studies of three of the block’s 98 apartments found that the tower may not have been built to its design specifications. The block appeared to lack “structural joints” between the floors and external walls, and the structural elements had “less fire resistance” and “less concrete coverage” than originally planned, according to the mayor.

That meant there was “a material risk to the structure of the block in the event of a fire, explosion or large impact.” Mr Rees said in a statement on Wednesday. While there was “no evidence of an immediate risk to life,” he said the decision was made to evacuate.

Barton House was built in 1958 and is among the city’s oldest public housing projects, or council estates as they are called in Britain. There is no evidence yet to suggest the bloc’s problems have appeared in other states, the city said.

Housing investigators said Barton House appeared to have been built using a type of construction known as a “large panel system,” which was popular in post-war Britain but has since been considered a potential safety issue. Other The block partially collapsed in 1968 after a gas explosion.killing four people.

“These blocks are reaching the end of their safe life and most of them are structurally unsound,” said Danielle Gregory, project manager for Tower Blocks UK, a group that collects information and campaigns for the safety of public housing towers. “The magnitude of the problem is enormous.”

Government officials in 2017 instructed city councils to inspect safety of these buildings with large panel systems, and Ms Gregory said councils were facing pressure to take action. But at least 575 blocks with large panel systems remain in Britain, according to the group’s research.

He said he had never heard of such an urgent evacuation. The local emergency service, Avon Fire and Rescue, supported the measure. saying in X, previously Twitter, that it was an “appropriate and proportional” measure to keep residents safe.

Residents called the evacuation a terrifying experience and said they received little warning from local officials and had no clear idea when the ordeal would end. Some families in need were given hotel rooms, while others chose to stay with friends and family, Rees said.

City workers were still trying to reach nearly 30 homes that had not opened their doors, he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Ali was still trying to figure out where he would sleep that night.

“We just want someone to take charge,” he said, “and tell us what’s going to happen.”

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