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Lives at risk in rickety old buildings

  • Published at 04:56 pm August 24th, 2013
Lives at risk in rickety old buildings

It was a Thursday evening when Shafayat Ahmed, a student of the Law department of Dhaka University, settled in to watch a movie in his room at Surja Sen hall.

All Shafayat had expected at the time was an evening full of joy and delight. But the evening turned into a dreadful memory.

“I was sitting in front of my computer, deeply engrossed in the movie. Suddenly, a very loud sound woke me up. For a split second, I felt confused as to whether the creepy sound just came out of my computer,” said Shafayat.

Then he saw concrete rubble in the middle of his room, just a couple of feet away from him.

Shafaya then started to inspect the rest of the ceiling in his room and found some more spots where concrete was also coming loose.

Students of the dormitory said this was not the first time that plaster and concrete had detached from the roof at Surja Sen hall. It happened many times before.

Ahsan Habib, a resident of the hall, said the building has been crumbling and it is now about to collapse.

He added that “If the building collapses, the disaster would certainly be much more tragic than the Rana Plaza tragedy.”

About 50 yards away from the Surja Sen Hall there stands Muhsin Hall which houses over 2000 students.

In 2008, when the roofs and pillars of Muhsin Hall begun to fall apart and the building was about to fall down, authorities installed wooden logs to support the ceiling.

Some of its pillars were later renovated with new foundations, but residents do not think the move was enough to fix the problem.

A number of students left the hall after the incident as they were feeling insecure living in the building.

Saddam Hossain was one of those who left his hall after the incident after he jumped off the second floor of Muhsin hall in a panic during an earthquake back in 2010. Saddam, who suffered a broken leg in the incident, said the dormitory seems to sit on top of some broken columns and modest shaking would cause it to collapse.

A total of four dormitories – Haji Muhammad Muhsin Hall, Surja Sen Hall, Fazlul Haque Hall and Zahurul Haque Hall – are all in shambles.

Students from the halls said huge cracks have developed in the walls and ceilings of the buildings. When it rains, water penetrates through the cracks and leaks into the buildings, drenching everything.

Parts of the ceilings have been coming loose all over the dormitories posing a threat to the residents, and the building needs to be torn down immediately, students said.

Students alleged that the university administration has not been considering the risk of collapsing the building.

Of the four dormitories, Fazlul Haque Hall was built more than 70 years ago, in 1940, while Surja Sen Hall, Muhsin Hall and Zahurul Haque Hall were built in 1957, 1962 and 1967 respectively.

Prof Guy Houlsby, chairman of the civil engineering department of Oxford University, told the Dhaka Tribune that the dormitories must be inspected and assessed by structural engineers immediately.

Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor AAMS Arefin Siddique said they have been allocated Tk100m to repair the buildings and would take steps in this regard soon.

He also admitted that only repairing the buildings would not be sufficient as the buildings are in a very fragile state.

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