Officials Fear Collapse of Riverside Buildings

Government officials said yesterday that the colonial-era buildings damaged by nearby excavation work on Phnom Penh’s popular riverfront are on the verge of collapse.

Ministry of Land Management Secretary of State Phoueng So­phean said yesterday that he had inspected the damaged buildings on Sisowath Quay and feared that recent heavy rains could put the worst-affected ones in imminent danger of falling down.

“If it keeps raining in the next couple of days, [the buildings] will have huge problems,” Mr So­p­hean said, adding that no emergency work has yet been done to shore up the buildings located between streets 178 and 184.

“It could collapse soon,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Daun Penh district officials halted work on the construction site of Vat­ta­nac Properties, which has caused the damage to the nearby buildings. Officials from Vattanac had been ordered on Monday to suspend work at their site, but the order was ignored, leading police and district authorities to raid the site on Tuesday to seize building equipment.

Mr Sophean also said yesterday that the Vattanac project was “completely illegal.”

“They do not have permission to construct, but they started anyway. It is 100 percent illegal,” he said, adding that Vattanac plans to build a four-story hotel at the site, contrary to previous reports that the firm was building a bank.

Mr Sophean said Vattanac was required by law to obtain permits from his ministry as the project would surpass 3,000 square me­ters of floor space.

Prak Sideth, a representative at Vattanac Properties, declined to comment yesterday, saying only, “I don’t know; you ask the government.”

Khon Sothavuth, deputy bureau chief for construction of Phnom Penh Municipality, said yesterday that regardless of whether Vatt­anac begins rehabilitation efforts on the damaged buildings, they would still likely collapse.

“There is nothing that can stop it,” Mr Sothavuth said of the fu­ture of the damaged buildings.

An architect said yesterday that if a proper survey of the site had been carried out, damage to the 1920s shophouses could have been prevented.

“You are not supposed to dig a hole next to a historical building. You need to survey the building and check the foundation of the existing building to see how it works,” said Yam Sokly, an architect at Manolis House, an architectural center in Phnom Penh.

Benoit Jancloes, director of operations at the FCC bar and restaurant, said that Vattanac sent over workers yesterday to help with minor repairs to a storage room at the colonial-era building on Sothearos Boulevard known as “the Mansion,” which is owned by the FCC’s parent company. The storage room at the Mansion site had also suffered damage due to the Vattanac construction work.

“There was a crack in the back of the storage room that was near to the construction,” he said, ad­ding that no actual damage oc­curred to the historical mansion itself.

He also said that the FCC, which is located at the northern end of the affected block, sustained some superficial damage, but substantially less than that of the neighboring buildings.

Other occupants closer to the site were more worried.

“In my opinion, one part of the building is going to fall down,” said Georgio Arcasi, owner of the popular Pop Cafe.

“I think it is going to crash down, and I hope it doesn’t pull down the rest of the building.”

Mr Arcasi said he was unhappy with the way Vattanac had handled the entire situation.

“Nobody came to apologize, or to tell us what is going on,” he said.

“The way that that they went about constructing was reckless. It was almost as if they wanted to cause a problem.”

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