Building in Tel Aviv Suburb Topples Day After Cracks Prompt Evacuation

Residents evacuated from 40-year-old Holon building: 'Our entire lives were here in this house, and now we’ve been left with nothing'

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The collapsed building in Holon, today.
The collapsed building in Holon, today.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

A four-story apartment building in Holon collapsed on Sunday afternoon, though nobody was hurt.

The panicked residents had been evacuated from the 40-year-old building at 38 Sarlin Street at 7:30 A.M. on Saturday. The following day, it collapsed.

“We were going to synagogue and realized that we couldn’t open the door,” recalled Liran Cohen, who lived with his father Yaakov on the first floor. “We immediately called the fire department. They arrived within minutes and broke down the door for us. It turned out there was a big crack between two apartments. They told us on the spot to get out.”

The fire department said it had received calls Saturday morning from residents who said they were hearing sounds from the walls and couldn’t open the building’s doors. When the firefighters arrived, they discovered large cracks in the building’s wall. They therefore ordered the 30 families living there to leave immediately.

The municipal engineer arrived about an hour later and said the building was at risk of immediate collapse. The fire department then blocked access to it. 

The collapsed building in Holon, today.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

On Sunday, firefighters surveyed the neighboring buildings to see if they, too, were at risk of collapsing.

“Yesterday’s evacuation of the residents prevented a major disaster that could have ended with the building collapsing on top of them,” said Ronen Maktayev, chief of the Dan region fire department.

Naor, who lived on the first floor with his wife and two daughters, said the first signs of danger appeared Friday night. “My wife told me in the middle of the night that she was hearing noises, as if the wallpaper were moving,” he said.

He pointed to some items that were visible amid the ruins and added, “You see that blue thing? That’s my daughter’s dress from Purim. And you see that? That’s the vacuum cleaner.”

Liran, Yaakov, Naor and most of the other former residents had been standing behind the barriers put up by the authorities ever since they were evacuated and gazing at what was left of their building. They were waiting for its inevitable collapse, and watched as it happened.

“We’ve been here ever since we left the building, stuck in the street,” Liran said. “There’s no help from the municipality. They took my phone number 18 times, but they have no idea what to do. They told us to go sleep in the community center.”

Adam and Sivan, who lived with their children on the third floor, agreed to be interviewed only to protest the way the authorities were treating them. “Our entire lives were here in this house, and now we’ve been left with nothing,” Sivan said. “There are families here with small children, there are elderly people, cancer patients, and there’s no solution for us. The community center with mattresses and no showers? That’s not serious.”

The collapsed building in Holon, today.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Even empathy, she said, arrived only from the firefighters. “Not one single representative of the welfare department has been here since this morning, and that says it all,” she added.

Another woman demanded that she and other residents be allowed to take whatever belongings they could find from the rubble. One of her neighbors tried to persuade her that it wasn’t safe, but to no avail. “There are things with sentimental value here,” she argued.

All of them said that even though the building was old, they hadn’t previously had any concerns about its stability. “You know, we thought there was just reasonable wear and tear, as with many other buildings,” Naor said. The first crack opened up near his door.

And none of them really knew what they would do next, either short-term or long-term. “My children are with my parents, and for now, we’re here,” Sivan said.

Yaakov, who is 80, added, “We don’t have insurance, we don’t have anything. We’ll find an apartment to rent and hope it’ll be okay.”

Naor said he had lived in his apartment for seven years. “I built it with my own hands, and it collapsed in a minute,” he added.

Asked what he would do now, he replied, “We’ll rotate among our relatives, I have no idea. I’m still digesting this disaster. I’ve been through a lot, but nothing has ever shaken me like this.”

The Holon municipality said that immediately upon being informed of the problem, it sent an engineer and members of its task force on dangerous buildings. But no complaints about the building had been received before Saturday morning, it added. 

Social workers spoke with the residents on Saturday, provided them with food and drink and, with the police’s permission, entered most apartments to retrieve essential items, the statement continued. In addition, the city prepared a temporary shelter at a community center, with beds and other equipment, and made arrangements for residents to shower at a local gym. However, most preferred to stay with relatives.

“Our hearts are with the families at this difficult time,” Mayor Moti Sasson said. “Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that a major disaster was averted today.”