Guardian – Building Collapse

Five feared buried in flats debris
Steven Morris and Matt Keating

Saturday July 21, 2001


Five people were last night feared buried under tonnes of rubble after a three-storey building collapsed in north London as workmen removed a dividing wall.

Firefighters with listening devices and special cameras used to find victims of earthquakes searched for signs of life while rescue workers picked through the wreckage of the precariously balanced structure. At one point they picked up a sound which could have been a voice.

A couple and their 18-month child survived even though the front half of their second-floor flat crashed into the street. Another woman escaped with minor injuries after being thrown clear as it crumbled.

One workman who survived because he was changing into his overalls in the back told police that five colleagues were left in the building in White Hart Lane, near Tottenham Hotspur football club.

The structure – containing an off-licence and newsagents on the ground floor and two floors of flats above – collapsed at about 8.30am after the builders removed a section of the dividing wall between the two shops. The ceiling collapsed, bringing down two floors of front rooms and ripping away the facade of the building.

The back half of the top floor was largely intact, with a section of the lounge containing sofa and armchairs still standing. A corner of the first floor, complete with bed and pile of suitcases, also survived. But all that remained of the shops was a pile of bricks, twisted metal and splintered wood.

A social worker, Christine Hanson, 44, who was driving past, said: “There was a tremendous noise, like thunder, and dust everywhere.” She heard screams and, looking up, saw a mother and baby on the second floor, poking their heads around a door into the devastated lounge area. Firefighters rescued them and the woman’s partner.

A London fire brigade spokesman, Tony Agar, said: “It is very difficult because we have a lot of background noise – there is running water and the sound of rubble moving. We are very concerned about the safety of the building. It is very dangerous; there are no supporting doors or walls.

At one point rescue workers sent text messages to the mobile phone of one of the builders, and located the phone at the back of the building, but could not establish if the builder was nearby.

Among the equipment used was a “snake eye” video probe – a fibre optic device on a piece of wire used to search for earthquake survivors – and a thermal imaging camera.