High-rise evacuated over ‘movement’
Tensions have flared among residents who were evacuated from 131 apartments in a high-rise Sydney tower block over major structural concerns after "a large crack appeared" and movement was detected.
Occupants were moved out of the complex in Mascot, in the city's inner south, on Friday night and emergency services and state engineers called to the ten-year-old building.
But furious residents who don't yet know when they'll be able to return home told news.com.au it never should have come to this point because management has been aware of structural issues "for years".
A Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman told news.com.au residents were evacuated from the ten-storey complex after "concerns with some movement".
Outside the building overnight, residents could be seen and heard arguing with authorities as they informed them they couldn't go inside.
NSW Police said "concerns were raised for the structural integrity" of Mascot Towers, on Bourke Street, shortly after 6pm last night.
"Police and Fire & Rescue NSW officers arrived a short time later," police said in a statement released just before midnight. "As a precaution, the affected building and surrounding buildings were evacuated.
"Fire & Rescue NSW and Police are assisting people to leave the building at this time.
"Engineers and building managers remain on scene to determine the integrity and safety of the affected floors."
A police spokesman said there was "no immediate risk of the building collapse". "There have may have been an ongoing issue but it is still a matter to be determined," he said.
Monitoring equipment is also being used on the building to help identify the issue.
"It will be a process. It won't be a simple fix, it will be very methodical," Supt Dewberry said.
Supt Dewberry said as the incident was "still evolving" it was yet to be determined when residents would be able to go home, or if they would need a permanent relocation.
A temporary shelter has been established at nearby Mascot Town Hall, police said.
The problem was spotted over the last few days during construction work nearby. A building engineer who carried out an inspection of the cracks on Friday afternoon "raised concerns over the safety for residents in the building" and the building manager decided to evacuate.
"There has been concerns over last couple of days," said the Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman. "There's been some local works and monitoring going on.
"There has been a larger crack that has appeared so they've called in emergency services.
"As a precaution, a decision has been made to do a staged relocation of the occupants.
"Assessments are being made by engineers and emergency management teams, which includes government agencies.
"There is no concern about any catastrophic failure or collapse."
Police cordoned off the area on Friday evening and fire trucks parked outside as state engineers inspected the property.
Residents were seen rushing out of the building clutching their possessions, while others returned home late to find themselves shut-out. Some were planning to stay with friends and family or find their own accommodation while others will be assisted by the authorities.
Some occupants received a letter from the building manager advising them to leave the tower by 9pm after an engineer carried out a site inspection into "cracking in the transfer slab supporting the primary building corner."
The letter said the block should be partially evacuated "pending further monitoring of beams over the course of the next week."
Vitoria Krug told news.com.au she had not received the letter, only an email a few days ago about repair works in the basement and a possible evacuation, without any date or time.
"I arrived from work around 7pm and my boyfriend was sleeping in our bedroom," she said. "Around 9pm, a police officer knocked our door and said we have five minutes to leave the building with our stuff.
"I was very angry and nervous and asked about what was going on."
She said the couple asked for a number or someone who could tell them when they could go back for the rest of their possessions, including their car, "but they had no answer".
Resident Brian Leggott, who has lived at Mascot Towers since August 2008, told news.com.au he was "slightly traumatised", after evacuating to the nearby Meriton serviced apartments.
He said the strata and building manager had been "extremely poor in communications" around the structural issues, simply placing a notice in the lift on Thursday telling residents to be prepared to evacuate.
Mr Leggott said there was "huge resistance" to the development at 27 Church Ave, finished last month, which he believed "shook" the building. "The council and government gave it the green light, barely any questions asked," he said.
"The land is tiny for the size of this development and basically squeezing Mascot Towers. This is a disgrace and I blame them for turning minor defects into major ones."
Nicholas Lim, 39, told news.com.au he was "utterly baffled and disgusted by how the authorities are handling this".
The level two occupant said he found the evacuation notice when he got home and began packing to leave, but struggled to get updates from police at the scene.
"There has been a discernible lack of support in any form from either the building management or the authorities," said Mr Lim. "There was such a lack of competence or compassion from any of the emergency, police forces deployed on the ground.
"I could hear my neighbours frantically packing, calling for each other. When I was leaving the building myself, I offered to help another neighbour who was alone and pregnant and had like five suitcases in tow. Nearby, three firemen and one police officer just stood and watched."
Mr Lim said the problems with cracking had been "going on for years". He said a neighbour had told him when he moved in last year that repairs were scheduled for the end of this year.
"I was aghast that it would take that long for repairs to commence but apparently the strata management couldn't agree on who was footing the costs," he said. "It's really quite concerning how little recourse property owners and tenants have in NSW when matters literally concerning peoples' homes cannot be resolved.
"We just saw police, they've put a notice on the lift saying this might happen, but it's happened very quickly."
Mr Lim managed to book a hotel room nearby and waited to check on his neighbours. "Quite a few of them literally only have the clothes on their backs as they were out and didn't make it back in time before the 9pm cut off," he said.
Residents who could not make their own arrangements were to be taken to a community centre where there were counsellors on standby. "Again, missing the mark," said Mr Lim. "People need a place to bed down for the night, not talk to strangers who - no matter how well trained - won't really be of much use."
The marketing agency business manager said one longtime resident burst into tears after police told residents the building could shut "for weeks", in which case engineers may install props and allow them back in to collect more possessions. He said the police officer "reminded us of the Opal Towers incident, where the residents were homeless for months".
Residents of newly built Opal Tower at Sydney's Olympic Park were evacuated on Christmas Eve after huge cracks in the high-rise sparked fears it could collapse.
A report by engineers found several significant structural design and construction failures, prompting concern about the safety of apartment buildings across the city.
"It was appalling to read the Opal Tower evacuation months ago," said Mr Lim. "Obviously the NSW State authorities or forces have learned nothing in terms of providing assistance to the very community they claim to serve."
A NSW Police spokesman told news.com.au: "The most important thing is from our perspective there is no immediate risk of the building collapsing, this is precautionary.
"Road closures are in place on Church Ave and Bourke Street between Church Ave and Coward Street."
A one-bedroom apartment in the modern building - which consists of 122 units over two tower blocks - costs $550 a week to rent or $800,000 to buy. The luxury complex, situated close to Sydney airport, features an outdoor pool and gym, panoramic views of the CBD and cafes, restaurants and a supermarket on the ground floor.
The apartments are described by real estate agents as "blending spacious contemporary design with a lifestyle location that is hard to beat" and "a superior option for professionals, downsizers, young families or investors."
Evacuated residents were advised to use the "Register Find Reunite" site to let people know they are safe.
Do you live in Mascot Towers or know more about the situation? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.