Two luxury waterfront high-rises in the Indian city of Kochi were reduced to rubble in controlled explosions on 11 January 2020 in a rare example of authorities getting tough on builders who break environmental rules.
The demolitions ultimately capped a saga that began in 2006 when a local governing body granted permission to private builders to erect the high-rises.
The country has seen a construction boom in recent years, but developers have often ridden roughshod over safety and other regulations, and with the connivance of local officials.
In 2018, Kerala state was battered by its worst floods in almost a century that killed more than 400 people. Experts blamed the disaster on the government’s eagerness to build houses, hotels, and resorts with little regard for coastal planning regulations.
The Supreme Court of India ruled in May 2019 that the buildings were constructed in violation of construction rules for ecologically sensitive coastal zones, calling it a “colossal loss” to the environment.
“It’s a high-tide area and hundreds of illegal structures have come up in the coastal zone,” the court ruled as it ordered them razed.
The 20-floor H2O Holy Faith complex of 91 apartments was the first to go down, collapsing in a matter of seconds. A thick grey cloud of dust and debris cascaded down after officials detonated explosives drilled into the walls of the building, which had been occupied for several years.
The building overlooked the famous Kerala backwaters, a group of brackish lagoons and lakes that run parallel to the Arabian Sea, which are environmentally fragile.
Minutes after H2O was demolished, the twin towers of Alfa Serene, separated by a narrow stretch of water, tumbled down with ear-splitting noise.
A crowd of onlookers who flocked to nearby terraces and roads watched the demolition after officials onboard in helicopters conducted aerial surveys.
Sirens went off warning people gathered for the demolition to remain at a safe distance while ambulances and fire engines stood on standby.
Ahead of the work, nearby residents said they were worried about the impact of the demolition on their homes.
“When they were demolishing the swimming pool, some of the houses in our neighborhood developed cracks, we are really worried,” one nearby resident said, who has since moved into temporary accommodation.
Over 2,000 residents living in the neighborhood were evacuated as a part of safety measures.
Some Alfa Serene residents initially refused to vacate but moved out after local authorities cut off water and power supplies.
They have been given interim partial compensation by the Kerala state government while the builders are in the process of providing a refund.
The inhabitants bought their dwellings in good faith and now face a lengthy legal fight to recoup their money. Some had invested their life savings.
Shamshudeen Karunagapally, who bought a unit for US$145,000, said his wife and children did not watch the buildings go down as it was “too painful for them to see their dreams shatter before their eyes.”
“We are suffering without any fault,” he added.
That same day, Jains Coral Cove, the tallest building affected by the demolition order, came down as well.
The following day, the Golden Kayaloram was the last of the ordered apartment complexes to be demolished. Of all four, it was the oldest of the bunch. The demolition saw it sink down almost vertically as if pressed down from above.
Nearby buildings looked intact seconds after what has been termed a precision demolition. Nonetheless, the perimeter wall of the apartment complex nearby was damaged, but debris had not spilled into the nearby canal. In less than eight minutes, the safety siren was sounded.
The implosion, using 14.5 kilograms of explosives, was scheduled to begin at 2:00 pm on 12 January 2020 but it was delayed by nearly a half-hour. This was mostly on account of the extra precaution that officials took to secure a two-story Anganwadi, that was located behind the Golden Kayaloram. A large geotextile sheet was used to shield it from flying debris.
A local official reviewed the process as “perfect,” further adding that "no damage has been caused by the implosion."
Kochi City Police Commissioner Vijay Sakhare said the implosions went well thanks to an excellent team effort. "All departments worked like a well-knit unit to execute the demolition," he said.
Debris is planned to be cleared from the demolition sites within 45 days.
For more on this story, go to the Bangkok Post and Onmanorama.