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The collapsed building is one of 11 in the complex

In June of 2009 a truly bizarre news story surfaced. A nearly finished, newly constructed building in Shanghai toppled over, killing one worker. As can be seen in the photos, the 13-story apartment building collapsed with just enough room to escape what would have been a far more destructive domino effect involving other structures in the 11-building complex. (Pics)

The development, known as “Lotus Riverside,” has a total of 629 units, 489 of which have already been sold. Now buyers are clamoring to get their money back, and authorities are making efforts to reassure them. The assets of the project’s developer, Shanghai Meidu Property Development Co., have been frozen and the city officials said the developer’s ability to repay homebuyers was secure, according to a statement on the municipal government’s Web site (in Chinese). A hotline has been set up for Lotus Riverside buyers, and by Sunday afternoon, more than half of them had met with a group of lawyers and officials organized to help them negotiate with the developer, according to the statement.

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Meanwhile, the cause of the accident is under investigation and nine unidentified people from the developer, contractor and management company have been detained.

A representative of Shanghai Meidu could not be reached for comment.

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The disaster could reveal some uncomfortable facts about lax construction practices in China, where buildings are put up in a hurry by largely unskilled migrant workers, and developers may be tempted to take shortcuts.

According to Shanghai Daily, initial investigations attribute the accident to the excavations for the construction of a garage under the collapsed building. Large quantities of earth were removed and dumped in a landfill next to a nearby creek; the weight of the earth caused the river bank to collapse, which, in turn, allowed water to seep into the ground, creating a muddy foundation for the building that toppled.

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The South China Morning Post noted that the pilings used in the Lotus Riverside development, made of prestressed, precast concrete piles, are outlawed in Hong Kong because they aren’t strong enough to support the kind of ultra-high buildings that are common in Hong Kong. But in mainland China, they are often used because buildings there are typically much shorter.

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Quality problems have long plagued construction in China, though they seem to be more apparent in rural areas and smaller cities, not in major metropolises such as Shanghai and Beijing. When school buildings were flattened by last year’s massive Sichuan earthquake, a number of parents faulted shoddy construction for creating “tofu buildings” that fell while other nearby structures were able to withstand the impact of the quake. More recently, state media reported that several new dams along the Yellow River are in danger of collapse, a situation attributed to shoddy construction practices, embezzlement and unqualified workers.

Via Wall Street Journal

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