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December 6, 2011

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Balcony collapse kills woman, quality of construction probed

A sixth-floor downtown apartment balcony collapsed from its base yesterday, sending a woman plunging to her death, police said.

The woman, aged 69 and surnamed Xi, was standing on the balcony about noon when part of it fell to the ground, city police said. The tragedy happened in an aged residential complex on downtown Maotai Road.

A female neighbor said she heard "a huge noise suddenly and thought something was collapsing."

She rushed to the scene and saw Xi lying on the ground. Then she saw the balcony "astonishingly missing from its original position" and the balcony on the fifth floor also damaged from the impact.

Most of the balcony of apartment No. 602 caved in and landed downstairs. Only the bottom still hung on the sixth floor, with a broken sink attached to it.

The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

Apartment No. 502 below, newly sold, was undergoing renovation. Witnesses said workers were removing the windows that once connected to the bottom of the collapsed balcony.

Neighbors said Xi was washing clothes on the balcony when the collapse occurred. She lived alone.

"What a tragedy," said a friend, who consoled Xi's two sons, who rushed to the apartment in the afternoon and were soon carried away by friends, overcome with emotion.

Xi did not live full-time in the apartment, and she had returned from one of her sons' home about a month ago.

"I want somebody to tell me what's going on out there, right now," said one of the woman's sons, surnamed Yan, while local authorities and community staff met to discuss the aftermath.

It was the first such incident to occur in Shanghai in recent memory amid stronger inspections by the construction watchdog. District authorities started a probe for possible design flaws or malpractice during the building's construction.

Wang Jieshan, an official with Changning District Work Safety Administration Bureau, said the renovation work downstairs is being looked at as a possible cause.

But Yan expressed suspicion about poor building quality, as he saw there were no steel bars to hold the balcony from the base.

"Decoration (renovation) could knock out a balcony entirely in one second? I don't buy that," said Yan.

A senior construction engineer surnamed Bian also said the balcony should have steel bars as protection under building code requirements.

Long cracks could be seen on other balconies in the complex. Neighbors said the aged community has not been renovated.

Neighbors said they worried about their own safety as the authorities suggested that they not stay at home or balconies all the time. Safety checks on the structures will be carried out soon, officials said.

The complex of buildings, constructed in the late 1980s, has about 900 apartments.


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