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By Maduka Nweke
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Not a few of the residents of Festac Extension were aware of the magnitude of danger that would befall them recently until the caterpillars and bulldozers of the state government came visiting.
Though the demolition has been done, its impact in the lives of the residents has continued to expose the weaknesses of existing structures in the estate.
For instance, following the heavy downpour on Monday, March 6, 2017, several buildings came under severe threats. The rain started with thunder and lightening such that people inside houses thought that the houses were about to be swept from the root by the wind.
The severity of the wind, coupled with the fact that the impact of the state government’s caterpillars had weakened the earlier foundations following the removal of some containers that hitherto supported these structures, exposed the buildings to the force of the wind. This resulted in the collapse of the balcony of Flat 2, Block 42 of the estate between 2:30pm and 4:15pm.
According to Mr. Olatunji Lawson, resident of Block 42, Flat 1, the balcony of his neighbours living fell in the process.
“We could hear the occupants shouting with no way for escape. Those that came around therefore rallied for a ladder with which we rescued the occupants and some of their belongings. It was after the first rescue efforts were done that we started calling some of the occupants who were away from the vicinity at the time of the damage to come home. Lagos State government was also intimated of the damage.
“When officials of the state government came to survey the house and allayed the fears of the occupants, they were told that it was nothing to panic about. They, however, ordered that every occupant should vacate the block within a week while the relevant state government department would come to ascertain the degree of the damage.
Lawson said those that came were from the Department of Emergency in the state government led by Mr. Gideon Lawal from LRU. “They invited the leadership of the close for a meeting at Alausa to discuss the way forward.”
On whether they have been noticing any development signifying that the block was faulty, Lawson said, “before now, we have been noticing that the block has been gradually sinking and when we noticed that, we made efforts to intimate the state government but our efforts were not fruitful. On our own, we have been trying to support the pillars.
“Again, if you look at the area, you find there are a lot of swamps and the state government seems not to be doing anything about it. Whenever it rains, the whole area will be waterlogged and those living downstairs will keep bailing water. There are no drainages so there is no route for the water to flow out. The flood menace has become so severe such that those of us living downstairs noticed that even the walls are becoming weak because of constant moisture. If not the two pillars you see, my side would have also collapsed,” he disclosed, adding that the next action left for them was to arrange and pack out.
For Mr. Ayo Ibitimi of Block 42, Flat 3, it was the action of the state government that came about three weeks ago to demolish containers and attachments to the blocks that resulted in the unfortunate incident. “This is because when government caterpillars came, they pulled down all the pillars put in place to support the buildings. This weakened the foundations of the blocks. When we saw that a fruit tree planted in the centre of the compound that gives shade was felled by the thunder and lightening, we knew that the rain was heavy. Not long after that, the balcony of Flat 5, Block 42 collapsed. Then we raised the alarm and residents of the close all came down. We immediately brought ladder and helped those who could not come down to exit the rooms. We are happy there was not casualty recorded. No death, no injury of any kind.
“Few hours later, few policemen came, there also came ambulance but since there was no casualty they went back. Few minutes after they left, officials of the Lagos State Department of Emergency came and sealed the building and asked occupants to relocate pending the time a test is conducted to find out whether the building is still strong for occupation or not. They said that since the damage was not much, they will not order people to evacuate immediately. They therefore gave the people one week to pack out of the block. We the tenants therefore decided to meet and get to Alausa to discuss the way forward with them. A lot of the tenants have already started packing their belongings out as you can see. We believe that before the one week given to us, we would have found alternatives,” he said.
The Chairman of the close, Mr. Obire Isaac, when contacted, said the wind that followed Monday’s downpour brought down the passage of the building and not the building itself. “This was as a result of the demolition exercise by the Lagos State government. The caterpillars moved around, shook the foundations and also pulled down some of the supporting pillars holding the blocks. Because the foundations have already been weakened and the containers that used to block the heavy wind from having direct contact with the blocks are no longer there, the wind had far reaching negative impact on the buildings,” he said. Obire said the building is strong and that prior to the demolition of containers and attachments to the buildings, nothing was noticed that would immediately jeopardise the lives of the occupants.
Efforts to reach the Lagos State authority for comment were not fruitful at the time of filing this report.
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses gave unsubstantiated reports that the state government has also planned to demolish the estate and build sky scrappers. The report said that plans for relocation and compensation to those who bought the flats are in the final stages. If the rumour is anything to go by, it means that the state government is planning to further stretch the an agony of the residents of the estate.