Residents forced to evacuate a Bristol tower block deemed unsafe are sleeping in their cars after hundreds were made homeless overnight.
“It was chaos – mothers were racing around panicking and children were in tears,” said Marie Abdi, one of the 400 people driven from their homes as the building is thought to be at risk of collapse.
Clutching a few belongings, the residents, including around 100 children, quickly streamed out of the 16-floor Barton House complex and into the darkness on Tuesday evening, not knowing when they would be able to return.
Some stayed with family and friends nearby, while others were taken to hotels or a “rest centre” at the City Hall by the city council. But some slept in their cars outside, while nine households chose to remain inside the block despite the risks.
The evacuation was triggered by a structural issue discovered in three of the 98 flats with the building at risk if there was a fire, explosion or large impact, said Bristol City Council.
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Mayor Marvin Rees has said the tower block may not have been built to the specification set in its design, with the surveys showing a lower fire resistance and less concrete cover in the floors
More work is taking place to investigate the problem – but it’s not clear when residents will be able to move back in.
Ms Abdi, 36, was among those to get a knock on her door, telling her to leave. With her three children – aged 11, nine and one – she got her family outside to safety.
“I was in a panic to get everything I needed,” she said. “My eldest son was crying, he asked ‘what’s going to happen to us’ as we shut the door behind us. Outside we hanged around before being taken to a hotel at 1am. But I have no equipment for my baby. I can’t cook properly.”
Fartun Abdulkdir arrived at her 16th-floor flat with her two-year-old child to find people leaving. “It was scary, people were rushing outside. I went in and picked up a few belongings to quickly get back out. Then I went to a nearby help centre where I was taken to a hotel.
“We just want to be safe, and to go home.”
Wilfred Stewart left his 10th-floor flat and was offered a place to stay at the City Hall. But not wanting to leave his car filled with belongings, he slept in the vehicle on the roadside.
“The council couldn’t guarantee I’d have a parking space [at City Hall],” he said. “So I thought I’d rather stay here with it, and sleep in it if I have to. It wasn’t a great sleep, and I don’t know where I’m going to be tonight.”
Despite the evacuation order, not everyone left the building. Fagen Roche, aged 52, is one of a few people inside who are refusing to go. “I’ve been here 25 years, I’m not moving because of some issue with just three of the 98 flats here,” he said.
“I have nowhere to go. This is my home. I won’t be leaving unless they force me.”
Barton House is the oldest high-rise block in the city council’s estate. It looms over a collection of other apartment blocks owned by the council in the Redfield area, close to the city centre.
Speaking on BBC Radio Bristol, Kye Dudd, the city council’s cabinet member for housing services, said the safety problems were down to concrete sections within the block.
He said: “The issue is within the construction of the building and the job that was done at the time, it wasn’t built to the design specs – that’s the problem we’re dealing with.”
However, it’s not clear how long further investigations will take.
Mr Rees, in an update on Tuesday evening, said: “The surveys will take us some time to complete, so residents will need to be away from home while they are carried out. We are working as quickly as we can to find everyone suitable temporary accommodation.”
Meanwhile, help is being offered locally. Cafe Conscious, a two-minute walk from the tower block, wasn’t due to open for another few weeks, but on hearing about the evacuation, joint owner Deniece Dixon decided to help.
The cafe is almost full of donations which are given out to people who live in Barton House. Ms Dixon said: “Community spirit is strong – and we’re provided a hub of support which has been well received. We’re just happy to help.”