Officials Probe Building Collapse In China

The collapse of a nearly completed 13-story apartment building in Shanghai has renewed concerns about building safety in China. Officials are questioning nine people are part of their investigation into why the building toppled early Saturday.

Chinese officials had hoped they had neutralized the issue of building safety following last year's earthquake in Sichuan province, when thousands of buildings — including many schools — collapsed.

The weekend building collapse in Shanghai killed one worker, and comes amid a construction boom in Shanghai ahead of next year's World Expo, which is expected to draw some 70 million visitors.

A local government spokesman says the nine people from the company developing the Lotus Riverside apartment complex are in custody. "They're being held in one place, and helping with our inquiries. There's no proof of criminal activity, so we can't arrest them," says Chen Zhiqiang from the Minhang district propaganda bureau.

What Caused The Collapse?

He denies this is another case of shoddy construction – known in China as "tofu-dregs" construction — like the schools that crumbled in last year's earthquake in Sichuan.

"No one is calling this a tofu-dregs building. If it was a tofu-dregs construction, it would have fallen apart when it collapsed, yet in this case, it collapsed in one piece," Chen says.

The sight of a massive building on its side has fast become one of Shanghai's newest tourist attractions. Speculation is rampant over the cause of the extraordinary event, as if a giant nudged the building over with a fingertip, with some windows still intact.

A woman living nearby who identified herself as Mrs. Wang described the scene. "There was a noise. It seemed as if the ground was moving, like an earthquake," she said. "There was a cloud of smoke and the building had fallen over. All 13 stories. We had a big shock."

There are 10 other buildings in the development. The government insists they are safe, but few people believe it.

Homeowners Seeking Refunds

Almost 500 apartments had been sold in the development, and buyers are lining up to apply for refunds. So far, 351 homeowners have registered with the government.

Wang Xuetong, spent almost $240,000 on a 1,000-square-foot apartment.

"The government should demolish these flats, and build new ones for us. The quality of these ones is too bad," he says angrily. "This is my first apartment. We are from the countryside and we've been working very hard to buy this apartment."

The Chinese press is reporting that the license of the developer, Shanghai Meidu Real Estate Co., expired in 2004. Its funds have been frozen as the investigation continues.

At the site, a former construction technician, who will only identify himself as Mr. Chen, says that corruption in the building industry is endemic. He blames the lack of supervision on the Communist Party.

"If the quality control department refuses to sign on the dotted line, the developer can't start. So the developer invites these officials for dinner and drinks, then everything is fine. That's the Communist Party for you," he says.

A China Daily editorial said it is "ironic" that the accident happened in Shanghai – one of the most advanced Chinese cities. It is also a serious embarrassment to the local government and a matter of great concern, as tens of thousands of workers are racing against time on numerous construction projects ahead of next year's World Expo.



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