Residents forced to leave their homes in St Paul's Bay after a road collapsed on Thursday night say the terrifying incident was a "long time coming".

Four families have been told they will not be allowed back into their St Paul’s Bay apartment block for the time being.

A fifth family had moved out three years ago after excavation works next door caused what they say is structural damage to their home. 

On Thursday evening, the ground under the pavement in Triq Xagħjra tal-Bandieri collapsed, bringing down a boundary wall into the backyard of a St Paul's Bay apartment block.

No one was hurt in the incident, which could have ended on a far worse note. 

Structural damage forced a family to evacuate their apartment three years ago, as the 2019 photo shows.Structural damage forced a family to evacuate their apartment three years ago, as the 2019 photo shows.

Residents of the 10-unit apartment block say that what could have been a horrific tragedy had been over three years in the making.

Times of Malta spoke to four affected families.

One resident, Peter Caruana, said that in October 2019, workers excavating next door drilled into his backyard as his wife was hanging up clothes. 

Structural damage to their flat forced them to leave their home, and a civil court case concerning the issue remains pending, he said. 

Attempts to contact the owner of the excavated land were unsuccessful. 

Residents forced to evacuate their homes due to Thursday's collapse stood behind police tape at the entrance to the block on Friday afternoon, unsure of when they would be allowed to return. 

They have not been offered any form of alternative accommodation, residents Nicole Vella and Joselyn Bugeja said, and have had to rely on friends and family to host them. 

“If we had no family, we’d be homeless,” Bugeja said. 

The evacuation happened so quickly that residents had no time to pack any belongings, either. 

“I’ve been in the same clothes since yesterday,” a resident said.

Magistrate Doreen Clarke is leading an inquiry into the pavement's collapse.

A geologically sensitive area

 Just 150 metres away from the collapse site, a swimmer was critically injured in 2016 when rocks fell on her as she swam in the area.

The area is a high-risk one, geologist Peter Gatt said.

“This part of St Paul’s Bay is a geologically active area exhibiting large faults, extensive areas of fault breccia and several rock deformations related to past tectonic activity. This area has experienced large tensile fractures over the years which had resulted in the opening of large fractures in Triq San Pawl, collapse of part of the sea cliff at tal-Veċċja (where the swimmer was injured) and now the collapse of a building along excavated rock,” Gatt said.

4 geohazards have happened in the area over the last 20 years Source: Peter Gatt4 geohazards have happened in the area over the last 20 years Source: Peter Gatt

“The government cannot keep ignoring the fact that certain areas of Malta are prone to high geological risks,” said Gatt, the president of the Malta Chamber of Geologists.

The planning minister must recognise the role of geologists in public safety, he added.

Andre Pizzuto president of the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers, said that it was too early to speculate on the causes of the structural failure.

However, the Geological Maps of Malta notes that the area is structurally sensitive, he pointed out. 

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