The collapse culture

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The collapse culture

The sudden collapse Tuesday of the facade of a 39-story apartment building under construction in Gwangju should be a wakeup call for our society. Six people working between the 23rd and 38th floors are still missing. The authorities must get to the bottom of the case to find out what really went wrong.

Pictures of the building look as if it had been hit by an airplane. We cannot understand how a concrete building going up in the 21st Century could crumble like a scene in a disaster movie. Officials from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety and construction experts attributed the accident to possible disintegration of a cast for concrete placement on top of the building. The authorities must find out if the builder used the required construction materials like steel bars and cement and if the builder hurried to complete the apartments to meet a deadline before residents were supposed to move into the building in November.

Coincidently, the builder — HDC — was involved in the collapse of another building in a redevelopment zone in the same city last June. In that tragedy, nine people lost their lives after a five-story building being dismantled fell onto a bus nearby. The accident was caused by a subcontractor commissioned to demolish the building, but the prosecution also indicted workers from HDC for their alleged involvement in the collapse. The CEO of the company apologized for the incident and bowed to the public. But another apology in just seven months cannot fundamentally solve anything.

January 11 was the day when a revision to the Construction Materials Management Act drawn up after the earlier collapse passed the National Assembly. The revised act is aimed at reinforcing punishments for building dismantlers who do not follow regulations at the risk of public safety. It is embarrassing to see the same construction company involved in a similar tragedy in the city.

Another law designed to penalize builders for safety accidents caused by their contractors was enacted last January, but doesn’t take effect until January 27.

In an emergency meeting on Wednesday, the Gwangju city government suspended all construction projects being led by HDC. The city’s police department has started investigations of all suspects — including a construction site manager and a tower crane operator — to find the real reasons for the collapse. The police also must look into the possibility of city officials having colluded with the HDC, possibly with bribery being involved. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety must find out exactly why such shameful incidents take place over and over in this country.
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