Apartment building collapse in Israel: miraculously, nobody got hurt

Following the horror in Champlain Towers South , some of us have been wondering if such a collapse could happen here.

Yesterday it did, on Serlin Street in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ḥolon — and miraculously, and thanks to the presence of mind of several people in the Ḥolon Fire Department, nobody got hurt.

As reported in the Hebrew news media: around 7:15 am, a resident returned from synagogue and found his front door wedged (as in: yes, my key works, but the door can’t move). He called the fire department.

The firemen forced open the door, let him in, and noticed a huge crack in the living room wall. He called his supervisor, rashaf [freely: Fireman Officer] Yoni Butchakovsky, who came over, took one good look, and ordered immediate evacuation of the entire building “with only your wallets and handbags”. Some were allowed to return later to pick up essential medicines and personal effects they had forgotten.

Then this happened:

And thank G-d and the presence of mind of the fireman and the rashaf, nobody got hurt.

The man who called the fire dept. had been living in the building (with his parents) since birth and was 40 years old, but it looked of older vintage, maybe 1960s. [A source meanwhile told me it was built in 1967.] This was a period when many 4- to 6-floor, brutalist, and frankly foeilelijke [a Dutch word, literally “scold-ugly”, that’s more printable than English “fugly”] boxes were slapped down to quickly provide housing for an influx of immigrants. The fact that Ḥolon (as the name says: Ḥol = sand, Ḥolot = dunes) is literally built on sand dunes does not help much.

Building standards were drastically tightened here following the First Gulf War, including mandatory safe rooms in each apartment (usually the stacked safe rooms are a structural core or mainstay of the building). Many of these older buildings are eligible for “Tama 38” (evacuate, reinforce and retrofit, add floors, reoccupy) or “pinui binui” (evacuate, demolish, build anew according to modern standards) urban improvement schemes, and several buildings in my own neighborhood are going through this now. The Ḥolon municipality, however, was at pains to say no application for either scheme had been received from the “va`ad bayit” (home owners association).

And no, one cannot blame “greedy landlords” in this case. Managed residential rental complexes are next to nonexistent here: typically, in an Israeli apartment [really: condo] building, each unit has a different owner, who either lives in it themselves or rents it out as one-unit landlords. (As rental income on the first such apartment is nearly tax-free, and real estate is considered a safe investment here, many people do this.)

A financial advice columnist recommended that everybody check that their home insurance was in order. If (G-d forbid) the building comes crashing down from a HamAss missile, National Insurance will eventually cover the bill, but structural faults in the construction are another matter. And for a 50-year old bulding, where the contractor may have gone out of business long ago or may not even be alive anymore… good luck suing them for damages.

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