Residents forced to evacuate a block in a Bristol tower block deemed dangerous are sleeping in their cars as hundreds were left homeless overnight.
“It was chaos – mothers were running in panic and children were in tears,” said Marie Abdi, one of 400 people forced from their homes as the building was believed to be in danger of collapsing.
Clutching a few belongings, the residents, including about 100 children, hurried out of the 16-story Barton House complex and into the dark on Tuesday afternoon, 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 Town Hall by the council. But some slept in their cars outside, while nine households chose to stay inside the block despite the dangers.
The evacuation was prompted by a structural problem discovered in three of the 98 flats with the building at risk in the event of a fire, explosion or major impact, Bristol City Council said.
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Mayor Marvin Rees said the tower block may not have been built to the specifications set out in its design, with surveys showing lower fire resistance and less concrete cover on the floors
More work is being done to investigate the problem – but it is unclear when residents will be able to return.
Mrs Abdi, 36, was among those who knocked on her door, telling her to leave. With her three children – aged 11, nine and one – she brought her family outside for safety.
“I was in a panic to get everything I needed,” she said. “My eldest son was crying, he asked ‘what will happen to us' as we closed the door behind us. We hung around outside before transferring 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 apartment with her two-year-old child to find people leaving. “It was scary, people were running out. I went in and got a few items to leave quickly. I then went to a nearby aid center where they took me to a hotel.
“We just want to be safe and go home.”
Wilfred Stewart left his 10th floor flat and was offered a place to stay in City Hall. But not wanting to leave his car full of stuff, he slept in the vehicle on the side of the road.
“The council could not guarantee I would have a parking space there [City Hall],” he said. “So I thought I'd rather stay here with it and sleep on it if I have to. It wasn't a good night's sleep and I don't know where I'll be tonight.”
Despite the evacuation order, not everyone left the building. Fagen Roche, 52, is one of the few people who refuses to go. “I've been here 25 years, I'm not moving because of some problem with only three of the 98 apartments here,” he said.
“I have nowhere to go. This is my house. I won't leave unless they force me.”
Barton House is the oldest high-rise block on the council estate. It sits above a collection of other council-owned blocks of flats in the Redfield area, close to the city centre.
Speaking to BBC Radio Bristol, Kye Dudd, the city council's cabinet member for housing services, said the safety issues were down to specific sections within the block.
He said: “The issue is within the construction of the building and the work that was done at the time, it was not built to design specifications – that is the problem we are dealing with.”
However, it is not clear how long further investigations will take.
Mr Rees, in a briefing on Tuesday night, said: “Investigations will take us some time to complete, so residents will need to stay away from home while they are being carried out. We are working as quickly as we can to find everyone suitable temporary housing.”
In the meantime, 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 when she heard about the evacuation, co-owner Deniece Dixon decided to help.
The cafe is almost full of donations given to people staying at Barton House. Ms Dixon said: “The community spirit is strong – and we have been provided with a hub of support which has been well received. We are happy to help.”