Over two weeks after occupants were rushed out of a high-rise located opposite the city’s central jail due to a fire in its basemen, officials continue to inspect and prepare for tests which will ultimately decide the fate of the building.
On June 1, a fire broke out in the basement of the building where a departmental store had built a warehouse to stockpile edible and non-edible items. It took over a dozen fire tenders and over a million gallons of water to finally put the fire out after 75 hours - one of the longest in the history of the city.
Residents in the 170 apartments in the building were rushed out as firefighters toiled to put out the blaze. Later, the asphyxiated body of a worker was discovered on the mezzanine floor.
Officials of the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) had declared the building dangerous for human inhabitation even as the fire continued to rage.
Testing for safety
A team of civil engineers from the NED University, who were invited to give their technical assessment of the structure, finally visited the site earlier this week.
On 6 June, the SBCA director-general had written to the NED vice-chancellor and requested him to devise and conduct tests necessary to test the state of the concrete and iron rebars that make up the foundations and structure of the building to determine if they can safely host human habitation again.
NED’s Prof Dr Abdul Jabbar Sangi, who has been tasked with conducting a thorough inspection of the building, said that an engineering team from the university visited the site on Thursday.
“We visited the fire-affected building on Thursday, but the team did not get access into the building’s basement and other affected areas because the authorities have yet to clear out the sludge and set up lighting,” Prof Sangi said.
Meanwhile, Chase Departmental Store management stated that they have cleared the basement of 60% of the sludge and other waste from the basement.
They said that the NED engineering team is expected to visit the site again on Saturday, by which time the remaining 40% of work will be completed.
Lengthy tests of strength
The NED engineering team, Prof Sangi explained, will be inspecting the building thoroughly and checking its material strength after the prolonged fire incident to determine whether it is “safe” or not.
It is a lengthy process, as different tests are to be performed to determine the status of the residential project, he said, adding that the tests include the Cut and Pull Out (CAPO) test - to determine the compressive strength of concrete. Other tests include the core test and steel test.
“NED has a laboratory and equipment where different tests are to be conducted before reaching any conclusion,” he said.
When asked about the determination of the SBCA technical committee which found the building 95% safe, Prof Dr Sangi refused to comment on the matter.
Moreover, when asked by when their tests will be complete, Prof Sangi refused to give any deadline.
“The procedure is a lengthy one,” he offered.
What are ‘CAPO’ & Core tests?
A senior SBCA officer explained that the CAPO and Core tests are conducted where the building is damaged by extreme fire or an earthquake.
In a CAPO test, the material from columns of a particular building is removed using a diamond-tipped tool and closely examined.
The SBCA officer says it is a lengthy process, as samples are drawn from the complete length of an affected pillar, beam and column for examination.
The Core test is similar to the CAPO test in that the basic material and structure of the affected building are tested in a laboratory.
Earlier, SBCA Technical Committee on Dangerous Buildings Secretary Benish Shabbir said that the building structure was 95% safe after a visit to the building a few days ago
Shabbir told SAMAA Digital that the majority of columns, beams and other critical building structures of the residential project are safe.
“The building is repairable, but needs a proper engineering solution, although a final conclusion will be provided by the NED University of Engineering and Technology team,” he said.
In its preliminary inspection soon after the fire was extinguished, the SBCA had declared the building “unsafe” for the habitation.