People living in an old tower building in Bristol were forced to leave due to chaotic circumstances. They may not be allowed to go back for several weeks as the city council discovered significant structural issues from its construction 65 years ago. As a precaution, other buildings from the same time period will also undergo inspections.
Around 400 individuals, including approximately 100 kids, have been instructed to vacate Barton House, the oldest high-rise building in the city council’s housing development. Nine households declined to leave and 29 households were unable to be reached, while the rest found temporary lodging with loved ones or were provided accommodations at hotels and a designated rest area at city hall.
The Bristol mayor, Marvin Rees, stated on Wednesday that additional assessments must be conducted on the 15-storey building before residents can go back. When questioned about the safety of the building over the past 65 years, he admitted that it did not meet design standards and therefore the answer is yes.
Rees stated that a survey of three out of 98 flats revealed concerns about the building’s construction not following its design specifications. Various problems have arisen, suggesting that the building’s actual construction poses a significant threat to its structural integrity in case of a fire, explosion, or significant impact.
“The building’s structural design does not appear to have any connections between the floors and the load-bearing external walls. The fire resistance of these structural elements is lower and there is less concrete covering than what was initially planned for the floors. Even if the concrete cover was as thick as originally planned, it would still be less than what is typically used in modern building construction.”
According to Kye Dudd, a member of the city council responsible for housing services, the recent occurrence of five fires in tall buildings left no other option but to evacuate.
He stated that there is no evidence of other buildings having the same problem, but they conduct regular surveys and will be more cautious, particularly with buildings of similar age and design, due to recent events.
“We’re not in a position to say how long the more extensive surveys [on Barton House] are going to take but I would say it’s days and weeks rather than anything longer.”
There was a strong sense of anger and disappointment regarding the handling of the evacuation, and a growing worry that other buildings may also be in danger. Despite repeated inquiries, the city council has not addressed this concern.
Nuh Sharif, a 42-year-old taxi driver, reported that he, along with his wife and two daughters, stayed at a hotel in the city center for the night. He described the experience as unpleasant, noting that the mattress was soiled.
On Wednesday, Sharif went back to his apartment on the sixth floor to retrieve his belongings such as additional pillows and sheets. He has been residing in the apartment complex since 2012 and expressed feeling unsafe staying there again. He expressed concerns about the safety of the building and questioned if proper measures had been taken to prevent a disaster like Grenfell.
Shaban Ali, age 36, refused to leave his apartment on the 11th floor despite the evacuation order. He stated, “I had no other option. I was not given another place to go. They took my contact information and said they would call, but they never did.”
Ali, who has joint custody of his children, called their mother and requested that she take care of them. He expressed his frustration and disappointment with the council’s handling of the situation, stating that there is a lack of leadership.
Ali expressed disapproval towards Rees, who is currently attending a conference in Rwanda, for waiting 24 hours before speaking about the evacuation. “The public is upset. I doubt they will want to return to this location permanently now, and the concern is that we will just be relocated elsewhere.”
According to him, a few individuals stayed behind to take care of their pets while others remained out of fear that their homes might be singled out. He expressed concern for the anxious state of the people.
Rayhan Ismail, a parent of two kids (ages six and three), stated that he and his family didn’t go to sleep until midnight following the evacuation. He described the experience as chaotic and extremely shocking.
According to Khalid Abdi, a member of the community, individuals were experiencing panic. He witnessed people falling to the ground in shock. Abdi added that residents in neighboring buildings were anxious about potentially being impacted as well. The entire vicinity is feeling concerned.
Stuart Roberts, age 44 and resident of the eighth floor at Barton House, stated that he has no intentions of leaving. Despite the offer of a bed and breakfast, he refuses to relocate again. He believes it is unfair for families to be constantly uprooted and is willing to take the risk of staying in his current home.
Despite the somber atmosphere, there was a glimmer of hope. A nearby establishment, Cafe Conscious, established itself as a central gathering place for locals and received contributions of food, water, toiletries, and diapers. “The community has proven to be more effective at organizing than the local government,” stated Rebecca Scott, a leader within the community.