‘Cracking’ Building on Christmas Eve Sees 3,000 People Evacuated in Sydney

‘Cracking’ Building on Christmas Eve Sees 3,000 People Evacuated in Sydney
About 300 people were evacuated from Sydney’s Opal Tower on Christmas Eve 2018 amid fears it would collapse. (Screenshot/Google Maps)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

A number of residents have returned to their apartments while several have had to relocate following reports of people hearing and seeing “cracking” in a 38-story high-rise building in Sydney, Australia, throughout the morning of Dec. 24.

Amid fears of building collapse, more than 3,000 people were evacuated from the 392-apartment building and its surroundings as a one-kilometre exclusion zone was put in place. They were not allowed back into their homes but were sent to an evacuation centre in central Sydney—the Royal Hall of Industries. Of the 3,000, about 300 residents were from the tower itself and two neighboring towers.

At about 12.30am on Dec. 25 local time, residents of the units that have been declared safe have returned. But 51 units have been declared structurally unsafe, according to a police release.

Residents of the structurally unsafe units have been escorted back to collect their belongings. They have made their own arrangements for accommodation. Meanwhile, engineers and building managers remain on the scene.

The evacuation alarm was raised about 2.45 p.m. on Dec. 24 in the Sydney Opal Tower building in Sydney Olympic Park. The building was at risk of collapsing after “cracking” reportedly took place on the 10th floor of the building, which has shifted its structure.

Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) and Urban Search and Rescue teams, as well as engineers, were set to go to the 10th floor to find the source of the cracking as of 7.40 p.m. on Dec.  24.

"We don't know [when the building will be safe to re-enter] until the engineers assess the building and find out what caused the issue—or if there's a major issue with the building," FRNSW Acting Inspector Greg Wright said Dec. 24, according to AAP.

Police closed the nearby train station, Olympic Park, and several surrounding roads, including Australia Avenue. Delays were expected for fans who were headed to the Big Bash cricket match at the nearby Spotless Stadium on Dec. 24.

Doors Jammed

Police had to use heavy-duty equipment to break through doors that were jammed to rescue trapped residents. A resident of the building told the Australian Corporation he had noticed changes to the doors earlier.

"A few days ago the doors looked different. Like they couldn't close the doors properly. And you do feel it [movement] sometimes when there's strong wind,” he said.

One of the residents told Nine News that he had heard a "big bang,” as though something had “snapped" inside the building, which only opened four months ago.

Police Detective Superintendent Philip Rogerson said the building has shifted one to two millimetres, AAP reported.

Wright said on Dec. 24 FRNSW was using “laser building movement monitors” to check for any further movement. He added that although the crack had moved, it hadn’t moved since the morning.

Police sent 55 children from a nearby childcare centre back to their families.

"The number one priority for us is the safety of people—both the people inside the building and people in surrounding areas," Detective Supt Rogerson said, according to AAP.

The Opal Tower on Brushbox Street, next to Australia Avenue, is part of a mixed-used development by Ecove, a privately owned development company. It has commercial spaces, a childcare centre, and community centre. It cost $165 million to build.

Ecove spokesman said the building is being examined by “relevant authorities,” according to the ABC.

"We are aware of the concerns that have arisen with the Opal building and confirm that the builder has been notified," Abraham said.