Anger mounts after deadly Marseille building collapse

Firemen remove rubble at the site where two buildings collapsed in Marseille. (BMPM/SM/LOIC AEDO/AFP)
Updated 07 November 2018
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Anger mounts after deadly Marseille building collapse

  • ‘Everybody knew about the problems with the two collapsed buildings’
  • ‘It’s unthinkable that such things happen in our time’

MARSEILLE: French officials vowed to inspect all Marseille buildings “unsuitable” for habitation as anger rose over the collapse of two buildings in the Mediterranean city, where up to eight people are feared dead.
A fifth body was recovered on Wednesday morning under rubble of the dilapidated buildings, which crumbled suddenly on Monday morning in Noailles, a working-class district in the heart of the port city.
The dead include two women and three men, prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said. According to authorities, a total of five to eight people could have died in the collapse.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told lawmakers in Paris that he had ordered a building by building audit before an “ambitious program for ensuring safe conditions” along with Marseille authorities.
“Nearly 6,000 properties have been identified as at risk” in the city, he said, representing some 44,000 lodgings in lower-class neighborhoods, calling the situation unacceptable.
Rescuers have been delicately searching what is left of the buildings. A third adjoining building partially collapsed on Monday night.
Residents said Tuesday the structural risks of the buildings and others like them were widely known, but that city officials did little when alerted about them.
“Everybody knew about the problems with the two collapsed buildings,” said Patrick Lacoste, a spokesman for a local housing action group.
“People died for nothing, even though we knew.”
“It’s hell here, they know that it’s crap and now people die for nothing,” said local resident Toufik Ben Rhouma. The disaster, he added, was “100 percent the fault of city hall.”
“It’s been 10 years that I have been living here and I have never had anyone come and inspect my apartment,” said a woman who identified herself as Sophie. Her neighbor said she hadn’t seen any inspector in 27 years.
On Tuesday afternoon, some residents returned to their homes in neighboring buildings to pack up belongings in bags and suitcases, some leaving carrying televisions with them, an AFP reporter said.
Only one of the buildings was occupied, as the two others were in such a bad state that they had been condemned.
Google Maps images taken in recent months showed the collapsed buildings had large cracks in their facades.
People had been living in nine of the 10 apartments in one of the buildings, while a shop occupied the ground floor.
A young waiter watched the scene with tears in his eyes, anxious for news of an Italian woman who lived in the building.
“She was a great girl, she used to come and study at the bar,” he said, without giving his name.
Abdou Ali, 34, came in search of his mother after she did not come to collect her youngest son from school on Monday afternoon.
“I haven’t had any news,” he said, wandering among the rescuers.
Sophie Dorbeaux meanwhile said she had left the block on Sunday night to stay with her parents because her door, like several others, was not opening or closing properly because of the building’s structural problems.
“The walls had been moving for several weeks and cracks had appeared,” the 25-year-old philosophy student said.
“It could have been me,” she added, visibly shaken.
Marseille city authorities, who have evacuated and rehoused 100 residents from nearby buildings as a precaution, believe heavy rain may have contributed to the collapse.
But the incident — rare in a major Western city — has already sparked a political row over the quality of housing available to Marseille’s poorest residents.
The neighborhood is home to many buildings in a similarly dilapidated condition, some of them run by slum landlords.
Marseille authorities began a vast upgrade plan for the city center in 2011.
But a 2015 government report said about 100,000 Marseille residents were living in housing that was dangerous to their health or security.
“It’s unthinkable that such things happen in our time,” said Christian Gouverneur, who owns a flat in an apartment block opposite the collapsed buildings.


Brazil seeks to privatize key stretches of Amazon highways

Updated 39 min 21 sec ago
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Brazil seeks to privatize key stretches of Amazon highways

  • President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is seeking to overhaul Brazil’s poor transportation infrastructure
  • The Trans-Amazonian highway was inaugurated in the 1970s but only a fraction of its nearly 3,000 kilometers were paved
BRASILIA: Brazil will add the Trans-Amazonian Highway to the list of projects for privatization, its infrastructure minister said on Tuesday, seeking new investment to pave part of a dictatorship-era roadway already blamed for extensive deforestation.
The road concession will be added to a priority list for privatization at a meeting next month, Infrastructure Minister Tarcisio Freitas told Reuters in an interview.
The government will package a short section of highway with a concession to run a major section of BR-163, a key northern route for shipping Brazilian grains, a ministry spokesman said later on Tuesday. The 40-km (25-mile) section of the Trans-Amazonian up for privatization will connect BR-163 with the river port of Miritituba in northern state of Para, the spokesman said.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is seeking to overhaul Brazil’s poor transportation infrastructure, which raises costs and causes delays for the commodity-exporting powerhouse, by seeking private investors to operate dozens of road, rail and airport projects.
On Monday, government Secretary Adalberto Vasconcelos, who has been tasked with creating public-private infrastructure partnerships, said the country would privatize more airports and secure new investment for railways.
For roadways, five concessions are slated for auction this year with a long pipeline of projects to follow, according to Freitas. BR-262/381 in the state of Minas Gerais, sometimes called the “Road of Death” because its poor condition has contributed to lethal accidents, will also be put on the privatization list next month, he said.
The Trans-Amazonian highway, officially known as BR-230, was inaugurated in the 1970s under Brazil’s military dictatorship, but only a fraction of its nearly 3,000 kilometers (1,864-miles) were paved and much of the existing roadway has fallen into disrepair. It stretches from the coastal state of Paraiba deep into Amazonas state. Original plans for it to reach the border with Peru were never completed.
Nevertheless, research by Brazil’s space agency and academics has linked the road to a rise in deforestation, and road improvements allowing easier access deep into the Amazon have consistently led to increased deforestation nearby.
He said that major construction firms that were implicated in corruption schemes remain unable to participate in public auctions for infrastructure projects, but could act as subcontractors for winners of concession auctions.
Engineering conglomerates Odebrecht SA and Andrade Gutierrez SA, both implicated in corruption schemes to fix contracts, signed leniency deals with the government admitting guilt and agreeing to cooperate, which allows them to contest government contracts. Companies linked to corruption but without such leniency deals may be subject to legal challenges.
“They are companies that have know-how, companies with engineering (ability), companies that can provide good services,” Freitas said.