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Families displaced by Malé warehouse fire start to return

Some buildings needed to be demolished.



A majority of families forced out of their homes after the September 20 fire incident in Malé will be able to move back by Monday, according to the National Disaster Management Authority.

The fire broke out in a chemical storage warehouse in the capital’s Henveiru ward and quickly engulfed six other buildings, four of which also included warehouses. A 46-year-old woman died and more than 400 people were displaced, including residents evacuated due to toxic fumes.

The NDMA registered more than 700 people who sought relief in the aftermath of the fire.

Emergency shelter was provided for 371 people for the first three days and 348 people were in emergency shelters until Sunday, NDMA deputy chief Umar Fikry told the Maldives Independent.

The NDMA will be taking care of 175 people from 31 families by the end of Monday, as families who have been allowed to return homes continue to do so throughout the day, he said.

The remaining displaced people were from houses that were either demolished or needed extensive repair work.

The Maldives National Defence Force dismantled two buildings from the site after they collapsed sideways. Engineers from the military, infrastructure ministry and housing ministry have been trying to assess the structural strength of the remaining buildings.

Out of the seven buildings that caught fire, at least five would need to be demolished, the NDMA deputy chief said. Government engineers will offer advice and technical support to the building owners, he added.

“For the time being, the buildings that were considered a hazard for public safety have been dismantled or demolished and the site has been cleaned up,” Umar said.

The warehouse fire revived debates about the safety and liveability of the densely-packed 2.2-square mile island of Malé, home to nearly 40 percent of the population. After decades of migration, many families share a single room and most people pay exorbitant rents to live in slum-like conditions.

As pledged in the wake of the tragedy, new rules on chemical storage were enacted last Monday with fines of up to MVR50,000 (US$3,240) for violations. The government also plans to relocate warehouses with hazardous or flammable chemicals to the Thilafushi industrial island near Malé within three months.

Upon his return to Malé on Monday morning after attending the UN General Assembly, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih visited the site of the fire and checked progress on the clean-up and assessment work.