It has been a year to the day since four families were forced to rush out of the block of apartments which they called home on Guardamangia Hill in the middle of the night.
Emotions were high in the street – a mixture of sadness, anger, and even gratefulness that the residents were still alive. For good reason too: what used to be their home had, barely minutes after their hasty evacuation, half collapsed into a construction site next door.
The collapse, which took place just before 11pm on 24 April last year, was the first in a spate of similar incidents which saw buildings collapsing into adjacent construction sites. Two months later, another building in Guardamangia – barely a five-minute walk away – and a building in Mellieha collapsed within a week of each other.
Then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had, after the first collapse, said that such an accident should not characterize the construction industry. However, after the third collapse, Muscat suspended all construction and new regulations were drawn up, placing more stringent measures for the protection of third-party property.
Tragedy however struck months later – on 2 March this year – when another building collapsed into an adjacent construction site in Hamrun, this time claiming the life of 54-year-old woman Miriam Pace. Further reform has been pledged by Muscat’s successor Robert Abela, but none has materialized thus far.
The photo shows how the building next to the collapsed edifice has risen in the past year
Four people have since been charged with the involuntary homicide of Pace but, one year since their own homes collapsed, the residents of the block on Guardamangia Hill have had no such form of justice.
Residents who spoke to The Malta Independent in fact lamented that while a year had passed no agreement has been agreed with the developers or contractors of the construction site next door.
“We have been out of our homes for a year and we have seen only people dragging their feet so far”, one of the residents, Caroline Micallef, told this newsroom.
Another resident states how they had only been allowed back into the building to take what was absolutely necessary, and that this had happened a couple of times for a short while under the supervision of an architect because of fears that the building may continue to collapse.
They are in the dark about police investigations – indeed it is unclear what the nature of the police investigations into the incident are and at what stage they have arrived: the residents point out that a magisterial inquiry wasn’t even launched into the case.
The building next to the collapsed edifice has risen high in the past year since that tragedy
This contradicts what happened in other similar cases: a magisterial inquiry was opened for both the later collapses in Mimosa Street in Guardamangia and the one in Mellieha.
In an episode of Xarabank last March, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis confirmed that no magisterial inquiry had been carried out, with the reasoning being that this was due to the fact that nobody had been injured in the incident.
When it was pointed out that, luckily, nobody had been injured in the case which occurred in Mimosa Street, Zammit Lewis had conceded the point but said that the opening of an inquiry is at the discretion of the magistrate, not the government. Nevertheless, he emphasised that the police must continue to investigate the case.
Questions sent to the police in this regard remained, at the time of writing, unanswered.
The residents meanwhile have been left to deal with the developer and contractor’s insurance companies themselves, through their lawyers, a resident said, adding that thus far, not much has changed and no compensation to them has been forthcoming.
Returning to the scene of the near-tragedy in Guardamangia meanwhile presents a stark juxtaposition.
What used to be the home of four families is still largely as it was when it collapsed. The façade remains half missing – only the limestone edges have been smoothed out with a layer of concrete, presumably to ensure that nothing else falls off into the street below.
The collapsed building in Guardamangia, the day after residents rushed out to avoid being crushed
The inside of the block remains visible, as it did a year ago, and what’s left of the back end of the house is now propped up using a number of jacks – again, presumably to make sure it doesn’t follow the fate that the rest of the building met a year ago.
Sometimes the smallest things present the starkest reminders. The blinds on the remaining windows remain in place. Some doors are still there as well, and where there aren’t, the doorways are boarded up. Where just over a year ago, these doors would have had families passing in and out; today, there is nobody to pass through them and there is nowhere for them to lead.
The second part of the juxtaposition is the property next door to the block. What was simply a construction site a year ago has now morphed into the seven-storey block of flats that it was envisaged as being. Here, in spite of the accident and the resident’s subsequent pleas, life has gone on regardless.
For the residents however, the effects still linger. For many days and weeks, many couldn’t sleep in fear. Micallef explains that she still gets emotional on the 24th of each month, remembering the events of that night and the stresses that have followed since.
“There were a lot of people”, she says recalling that night, “but we had just seen the tragedy unfold in front of our eyes, and seen all that we worked for end up in nothing. You can imagine the massive trauma that these people put us through…we’re still going to a psychologist because of it.”
Today, the residents have been provided with accommodation by the developer – but for those who spoke to this newsroom, nothing can replace their home.
Their fight for justice even now, a year later, goes on.