Jamaica: Five injured in building collapse

Jamaica Observer:– THE collapse yesterday of a section of the Blue Diamond Royalton Hotel currently under construction in Negril, Hanover forced Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie to have the parish council issue a 30-day stop order on the project, while he named a three-member team headed by National Works Agency boss EG Hunter to investigate the incident.

Hunter’s team will include Kingston and St Andrew Corporation City Engineer Norman Shand, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security’s Chief Technical Director Dwight Wilson.

Five men who were working at the hotel site when the building gave way were rescued by the Jamaica Fire Brigade Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Three of the five remained in hospital last night, with one suffering from a serious injury to the eye.

“… So far, information confirmed is that five people were taken to hospital. Two persons were treated and released and there are three others, one of whom was due to be transferred to the Cornwall Regional Hospital with a severe eye injury,” said Daryl Vaz, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

Vaz, who yesterday spoke with the press following a tour of the hotel construction site, expressed condolence to the family of those injured.

Workmen said they were working overnight, pouring concrete, when about 5:13 am a section of the roof of the three-storey building collapsed onto the second floor.

“Mi hear di man dem under the building a bawl fi help and nobody a help because they (emergency crew) only have the thing dem a push, push through the thing (rubble). Wi (workers) needed to go over there go help the youth dem because wi black brother dem over there a dead,” one construction worker pleaded to police and firefighters who had sealed off the scene.

Other workers joined the plea, and the police eventually allowed about 20 people onto the property to assist with the search and rescue efforts.

Superintendent Gary Morgan, who is in charge of the EMS, said approximately 25 emergency workers and firefighters responded, while another three from the Ministry of Health later joined in the search and rescue. Doctors, other medical officials and Jamaica Defence Force soldiers were also on location.

Workers said the project was originally schedule to be completed over a four-year period. However, they alleged that the owners were trying to complete it in 18 months, hence the pouring of concrete at nights with poor visibility.

The more than 500-room all-inclusive resort was planning to open for business between later this year and next year, one of the workers said.

The Blue Diamond Royalton Resort had taken over the property of the former Grand Lido hotel, which was later demolished to make way for the construction of the present buildings.

William Fogah, a construction worker, called for a review of the hotel’s building permit by the Hanover Parish Council.

“All of these buildings need to be reviewed. All the diagrams. All the plans need to be reviewed, because we don’t know if another one is going to go down. So before this site open, everyone should be reviewed by the Government. There is no way they should send back the people to work, even though no one died, until you do a revision of all these buildings here,” Fogah said.

However, Vaz, who is slated to receive an interim report of the incident within 24 hours, said the Hanover Parish Council will go through the entire building and inspect it. He also stated that the principals of the hotel were on their way to the island.

Mayor of Lucea Wynter McIntosh said apart from a few irregularities which were corrected, the council was satisfied that the building was being built to specification.

“The Hanover Parish Council, as the local authority, will be doing a thorough investigation to ascertain what happened here in Royalton Negril that we can plan forward and to make the necessary recommendation and correction,” McIntosh told the media. He noted that there was also a language barrier concern expressed by the workers, who found it difficult to communicate with their Spanish-speaking supervisors and managers from the Dominican Republic.

Members of Parliament for Hanover Western and Westmoreland Western, Ian Hayles and Wykeham McNeill, respectively, expressed relief that no one lost their life in the tragedy.

The resort town of Negril is shared by both Hanover Western and Westmoreland Western with the larger and most popular brand name hotels located in Hanover.

The scene was also visited by a high-level team from the tourism ministry, including the ministry’s senior director of technical services, David Dobson, chairman of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) Ian Dear, executive director of TPDCo Dennis Hickey, Director of Tourism Paul Pennicook, Senior Communications Strategist Delano Seiveright, and other Government officials.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, who is currently off the island, said in a press release: “We are very concerned about the safety and the well-being of the construction workers and hope that they will all make it through this ordeal. They are in my prayers.”

In the meantime, McKenzie said last night that construction will not be allowed to resume at the site without guaranteed security of the structure and safety of the workers.

“Whatsoever steps we need to take will be taken, but the construction will not be allowed to resume until the related ministries and agencies are satisfied that it is safe to do so,” McKenzie told the


Observer after urging the parish council to issue a stop order on the development.

The Ministry of Tourism, meanwhile, has called an emergency meeting this morning at its office in New Kingston, after which a ministry team will meet with the owners of the Royalton, as well as the main contractor and the sub-contractor.

Following the meeting Bartlett will be briefed.

Yesterday, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), one of the two major trade unions representing construction workers, called on the Government to close down the site and carry out a full investigation into the incident.

“It must never be viewed that our construction workers are disposable, and we must also take into consideration the challenges facing the sector, including the lengthy delay in introducing the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which has been in gestation for some 15 years now,” BITU President Senator Kavan Gayle, said.