Residents of the area say that there is an attempt to cover up or alter facts regarding the incident where a five-storey building collapsed in Sangamitta Mawatha in Buwelikada, Kandy, killing three.
The five-storey building which is said to belong to a former Basnayake Nilame in Kandy, Lewke Bandara, collapsed last Sunday (20) morning, killing a young couple and their two-month old baby. The five story building collapsed onto the young couple’s house as they slept.
Residents allege that a group of people including the owner had evacuated themselves before the collapse of the building without warning the nearby houses.
A local resident told MediaLK that Anura Lewke, a former Basnayake Nilame in Dodanwala Devalaya, the owner of the house is trying to cover the incident using the influence he has.
The building was built across a canal
The resident went on to mention that the building was built across a canal and many people were faced difficulties as a result of its construction.
When asked whether this construction was built on a canal, Samantha Egodapitiya, the Kandy District Geologist for the National Building Research Organization said that this was built in a valley where water flows from almost every direction.
“This house is built on a place where water flows from every direction. There’s a canal and a culvert at very close proximity to the house. The water goes down a drain from one side of the house. This could lead the foundation to break loose. The locals also said that a canal had been blocked. But now it’s not possible to find any as the place is covered with rubble,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Professor of Geology in University of Peradeniya told the media after some research on the incident, that the building had been built obstructing a water way and due to this, the flow of water from the hill had been blocked for years.
The building was empty?
The local resident also said that everyone in the building was evacuated before the building collapsed and that all the belongings of the owners were removed. They added that when the building collapsed it was empty.
“All these make sense that this was a deliberate act and if they had simply warned the other residents, this disaster would not have happened to that innocent family who lost their lives”, he said.
He also said that no legal action has been taken yet against anyone involved and that the CCTV footage could be checked if necessary.
Mr. Lewke’s brother is a former high-ranking police officer and they are trying to cover up the incident using all these influences, he added.
Opinion of the National Building Research Organization on this construction
When inquired about this, Kandy District Geologist for the National Building Research Organization Samantha Egodapitiya said that this building has never been stable enough for the nature of the land that it has been built on and the constructors have not used the concrete and steel bars in adequate amounts.
He also said, “This house has been built in a valley where the land is unstable. And also there’s a slope with a water stream. It has not been built steadily to fit the nature of this land. They should have researched these factors before the construction. The foundation of this building has only been fitted to an upper soil layer.
“It was quite clear just with a mere look even before the investigations that the strength of both the concrete steel bars used in construction was nowhere near to satisfy the structural stability.”
The building owner’s response to the allegations
Anura Lewke, the owner of the building, told media that the allegations against him are false.
“My daughter sits for A/L examinations this year. She studied till 1.30 am and we all were besides her. We went to sleep at 1.30 am. It was at about 4.00-4.15 am when we heard some loud strange sounds. When I went to investigate, our neighbor Mr. Samarasinghe said “Mr. Lewke your house is cracking.” We tried to get out of the house which we failed at as all the floor tiles were cracked and popped up in a way we couldn’t step on them. Somehow we managed to get out of the house. It was raining. We got into our vehicle and came to the house in front of ours.
“This was built with proper standards. We obtained full approval from the Engineering Corporation. Even for the steel bars,” he said.
Anura Lewke’s wife said,
“We built this in 2006 with every approval we needed to acquire. It is very sad to hear these false accusations. We don’t even have our NICs but only the clothes we were wearing.
“It’s more tragic that a whole family was lost. We are saddened by the loss of our neighbours.”
Mr. Lewke’s son said,
“I was awakened as my bed shook all of a sudden. I heard strange sounds and dogs barking. When I called my mother, she had heard the sounds too and she had gone to the balcony. That was when our neighbor Mr. Samarasinghe had said to my mother that our house is cracking. My mother woke up my father and sister and came upstairs.
“I have no idea how the roller gate was opened. Those are quite instant actions without planning.
“I remembered our vehicle and that it would be the only thing we would leave with as every other possessions are about to go down. It was raining outside. We couldn’t stay outside. I started the vehicle and reversed, got my parents and sister inside. It had already cracked for about 3-5 inches between the garage and the road. We drove towards the Lake Club. I called the police while driving right at 5.00am. I did not remember the emergency number 119 but the number of Kandy police station.
“It shouldn’t be more than 7 minutes time between my call to my mother and the police. While I was telling the police that our house in Sangamiththa Mawatha is about to collapse, we saw it falling down.
We built this house in 2006. We had every approval for this construction from the beginning which were stored in a safe. Now we cannot access any of them as all have fallen to rubble.”
A contradiction in the stories of the owner and the son
A resident of the area told MediaLK.com that there are discrepancies in the stories of Anura Lewke and his son.
Anura Lewke says that he woke up to the noise and their neighbor Samarasinghe told him “Mr. Lewke your house is cracking.”
But Mr. Lewke’s son says that it was his mother who woke up to the noise, went to the balcony, and was informed by Samarasinghe that “Mrs. Lewke a pillar in your house is cracking.”
He also says that it was his mother who woke his father and sister.
Anura Lewke says that he and his family got into the car and went to the ‘front house’ but his son says that they drove towards the ‘Lake Club.’
Police Media Spokesman SSP Jaliya Senaratne said that if it is confirmed that the building was not constructed in accordance with the legal standards and requirements, legal action will be taken against the people related to the incident under criminal law.
Mr. Jaliya Senaratne said that it is a moral duty to inform other people if they knew in advance that an accident was imminent or the building was on the verge of collapse.
When inquired about this, the Police Media Division said that the Kandy Police have commenced the investigations into the incident and have reported the matter to the Kandy Magistrate’s Court regarding the deaths of three persons in the incident and a preliminary magisterial inquiry has been conducted.
Police said that it has not been revealed yet whether it is an unauthorized construction and further investigations are being carried out.
After the incident
“Three people have died and one injured due to the heavy rains that lashed the Kandy district in the last few days. Three houses have been completely destroyed and 21 houses were damaged partially. Considering the risk created, 37 people of 8 families have been moved to secure places,” a statement issued by the government after the incident said.
Central Province Governor, Lawyer Lalith U. Gamage said that law should be strictly enforced against the unauthorized and dangerous constructions.
The Governor said that immediate attention should be paid to the buildings under construction at the present and that a survey should be conducted on the buildings which are currently at risky states.
He further said that a special meeting was called on 21st September at the Governor’s Office in Kandy to discuss the threat that poses due to the unauthorized buildings and the steps should be taken regarding this.
Central Province Deputy Chief Secretary (Engineering Services), Director of the Provincial Engineering Services Department, Urban Engineer of the Kandy Municipal Council, Provincial Director of the Kandy City Center for Disaster Management, Regional Manager of the Geological Survey & Mines Bureau and many other officials were present at the discussions.
In this discussion, it was revealed that many unauthorized constructions are being carried out in cities without following the rules and regulations of the government and some people are engaged in construction with building materials which are not suitable for standard constructions.
To avoid such a tragedy from happening again
Central Province Governor, Lawyer Lalith U. Gamage said in a media conference, that law should be enforced immediately on risky and unauthorized constructions to prevent such incidents from happening again.
He requested from the Social Media Activists for a fair investigation on this incident and to take actions to remove unauthorized constructions at a fast pace.
The Minister of Sports Namal Rajapaksa stated that the cause for this accident should be found and take precautions to avoid such from reoccurring.