Balconies damaged as scaffolding collapses in high winds

Housewife describes being awoken by 'earthquake'.

The scaffolding that collapsed on Salam Street in Abu Dhabi was not built to withstand winds of more than 30kph. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // A housewife described yesterday how she was awoken by what she thought was an earthquake, and found the balcony outside her third-floor bedroom had collapsed to the ground.

"I was sleeping and I woke up alarmed, my heart kept hammering," said Mrs Awad, who lives in the apartment on Salam Street with her husband and their five children, and her husband's mother and sister.

The glass door to the balcony has now been removed, leaving a gaping hole in the bedroom wall. "We removed it because we were worried the glass would start crashing inside the room," said Mrs Awad's husband Zachria, 50, a mechanic.

Mr Awad's mother is blind. "She might walk in and fall,"his sister said when she saw the hole in the wall. For safety, the family have now moved to the other side of their home in the Al Otaiba building.

Several balconies were damaged and windows smashed after scaffolding protecting the building from nearby demolition work began to collapse in high winds at 10.30am on Thursday.

The Awads were visited by the company in charge of the scaffolding and told everything would be fixed - but not told when.

Despite the upset, the family were in a cheerful mood yesterday, baking sweets and doughnuts to celebrate the Prophet's birthday while relatives gathered in the living room.

"We are Palestinians, we can handle it," Mr Awad joked. His wife said she was worried mostly about where she would hang her laundry now they had no balcony.

The ground next to the damaged building was scattered with fallen wood, glass and iron bars, and several air-conditioning units.

"Those fell off our relative's house on the first floor," Mr Awad said.

The scaffolding continued to collapse as Thursday wore on. "In the evening the wood kept moving and back forth like a sail," said a supervisor from Safety Zone, the company hired to remove the scaffolding. Tenants said it finally fell off early on Friday morning.

As pieces of broken scaffolding rained down on the street, traffic police warned residents to move their vehicles, and cordoned off the area with tape.

Traffic police, municipality and ambulance workers remained at the scene through the day and night on Thursday. No one was hurt in the incident.

By Friday afternoon the scaffolding had been brought down to the third floor of the building.

"We've been trying to remove it carefully since the crash happened, but the wind is not helping," said the Safety Zone supervisor. "We cannot lift the crane, we are taking it gradually and step by step. The scaffolding was firmly secured and it is hard to detach it."

He said the scaffolding was installed last July by another company. "The duration for these should be three months, or six months max."

He said they had found no inherent problem with the scaffolding, but it was not designed to cope with the winds of more than 30kph on Thursday morning.

One second-floor tenant let workers inside his house to see the broken glass on his balcony.

He said the wooden structure kept waving "like a flag" all night, and believed the problem lay in the protective structure being too tall. "Usually the scaffolding is wooden for the lower floors, but on the top floors they use a green net, so when there is wind it can go through it. But here they had it all wood from top to bottom," he said.

Yesterday afternoon, workers were still trying to detach the remains of the scaffolding, having cleared it down to the second floor.