Building collapses in Divisoria

By Tarra V. Quismundo
Inquirer News Service

IN THE heart of busy Divisoria, Friday morning, a 5-year-old building began to lean, sending frightened passersby scampering for safety, bringing traffic and business to a halt, and pedestrians gawking for hours at the awesome sight of a structure about to crumble.

Six hours after a guard noticed the eight-story Sai Building on Padre Rada Street, Tondo, starting to tilt, the structure collapsed, damaging establishments nearby. There were no casualties.

The building collapsed at 4:40 p.m., crashing down on one side of the adjacent Italy Marketing building.

"It was like a glacier breaking up," said Manila Mayor Jose L. Atienza Jr., who had rushed to the scene 30 minutes before it came crashing down.

Atienza ordered police to secure the building round the clock, with the Insular Bank vault and other valuables under the rubble. The bank is one of the building's tenants.

Authorities have yet to determine the extent of the damages.

"We are looking at what happened and who should be held responsible -- the owner, the builder or the government. The good news is that nobody was hurt and we were prepared," said Atienza.

"As early as 10:30 a.m. we heard a loud sound, like a transformer had exploded," said Ernesto Ozaeta, a security guard at Insular bank. "When we went outside, we saw that the building had already tilted on its side."

A barangay watchman with a megaphone directed vendors, shoppers and passersby to get as far away from the building as possible.

Police learned about the leaning building shortly before noon. When they arrived at the scene, the immediate area around the building had already been cordoned off, and offices beside it empty.

"I felt the building had sunk after I heard a loud cracking sound," said Sai owner Ajit Mansukhani, referring to the same sound Ozaeta heard.

By 3 p.m., the building was already leaning some four feet to its right, its angle made apparent by the building's skewed distance from the structure behind it.

"The building's foundation may have weakened because there was construction work all around it. My assessment is that when workers began pounding to lay down the concrete piles, the soil structure underneath Sai had changed," said Harry Wong, an engineer and a friend of Mansukhani.

Two medium-rise buildings are under construction in front of Sai.

The building housed a few residential and office units, and a textile warehouse on the second floor. Mansukhani said that some 20 people stayed at the building at any given time.

Before it collapsed, occupants, including Insular personnel, were not allowed by the Bureau of Fire Protection to retrieve their belongings from their units.

A Jollibee branch and a bakery at Sai's ground floor were among the first establishments to close down.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the National Disaster Coordinating Council, the Manila City Government, and the Department of Public Works and Highways helped secure the area.

Starting Monday, Insular Bank clients can transact business at its Sta. Elena branch on 668 Sta. Elena street, said Jose Ernesto Villaluna, Insular vice president.



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