Two Injured in Casco Viejo Wall Collapse
Friday, October 19 2007 @ 08:53 PM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - This morning at approximately 11:45 am a wall collapsed in Casco Viejo near a construction project. The Historical Projects company was digging a hole in order to install a foundation footing as part of the work on their Casa RuiGar project when apparently the vibration from the work caused an exterior wall of the building next door to collapse. Two people who were in the area were injured. Construction workers in the area quickly uncovered the people who were buried in the falling debris, and called for help. (more)
Where Did The Accident Occur? In Casco Viejo at the intersection of Ave A. and 4th Street. For Casco Viejo buffs, specifically at the site of a construction project located on lots 3537 and 920 in block #17. The south wall of the building located on lot #3403 fell to the south. The walls of some of these old buildings were constructed hundreds of years ago and were built from a "poor" mixture of weak mortar and large stones. In the case of this building the vibration next door caused by the backhoe that was digging out the hole for the foundation was enough to shake it down.
SINAPROC On The Scene: As usual anytime anything bad happens the first ones to show up are the rescue experts from Panama's National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC.) At any incident scene they are the guys dressed in orange and they are the best trained and equipped rescue force in Panama for any kind of natural disaster. SINAPROC Director Dr. Roberto Velásquez Abood is almost always one of the first guys on the scene. In this case one of his guys was giving him the "count" of how many people were effected by this incident. As you can see, there were eighteen rooms in this building, where 17 families lived, a total of 37 people and of them, five minors. They got the information from the Casco Viejo office which maintains good track of who lives where, and Velásquez called the numbers into SINAPROC's Emergency Operations Center on Howard to be included in their press release.
First Priority: When the wall collapsed the first concern was to extract the people who were trapped. Then, the next concern was that there might be more people under the debris. SINAPROC arrived with search dogs and were able to determine that there was no one else under the collapsed wall.
"Barraca 756": As you can see 4th Street was practically completely blocked and workers worked quickly to clear the street. The collapse of the southern wall of this building obviously damaged the entire structure and emergency response officials quickly decided that the building had to be condemned, a joint decision made on the spot between SINAPROC as well as Safety Inspectors from the Panamanian Fire Department as well as the National Police. Police commanders on the scene cordoned off the building and would not allow access to anyone which annoyed some of the residents. Eventually rescue personnel entered the building to allow people access to personal items such as clothes to help in their emergency relocation.
"Whoever Is Responsible Will Pay" Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro said that he would order a detailed event report to determine who should be held responsible for this accident. And, he added, whoever is responsible will be held accountable. In reality the wall standing next to this property probably looked pretty strong, until it fell down, that is. All of this stuff was build "ad hoc" hundreds of years ago and there simply are no architectural plans that can tell you with accuracy what's where. And who would think that a solid stone wall that's been standing in place for so long would come tumbling down.
The Law Of Unintended Consequences: Remember when the government of Panama wanted to pressure property owners in Panama to get off their duffs and start to develop these properties? Remember when they confiscated one property in Casco Viejo as a way of saying "we're serious, really." Well now Casco Viejo looks like a war zone with all of the construction going on. Thank God no one was killed in this accident, which could have been a whole lot worse. Basically, this accident was a "near miss" which had the potential to kill dozens of people.
Take A Hard Look At What Fell If you take a really close look at the debris in the street (like I did) you would see that all of the wood in the structure was riddled with termites and barely had any structural integrity at all. Basically, it was like wet cardboard. The zinc roofing was rusted through in several areas. The walls themselves were little more than piles of dry sand - you can crush the "mortar" that was holding the rocks in place between your fingers. In short, this thing could have fallen down at any time under its own accord, construction next door or not. So before someone starts trying to blame the construction company, an engineer should arrive at the conclusion that a building of this size and heft should be able to withstand the vibrations caused by a backhoe working next door. If it can't, then it should have been condemned before it fell down. How many other buildings in Casco Viejo are in the same condition? Basically, all of them (that have not yet been restored.) I certainly hope this does not turn into a witch-hunt against the builder. The government should start with a complete self-examination of their years of neglect in Casco Viejo, first and foremost.
Copyright 2007 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.