Estonian Engineer Warns of More Flawed Store Roofs, Defect Found in Võru Maxima

12/2/2013 11:48 AM
Category: news

Following a call by the Latvian president for international experts to evaluate buildings, a Finnish-based Estonian civil engineer has warned of design flaws in other supermarket buildings throughout the region.

Toomas Kaljas has emerged as a leading pundit on the issue in the Estonian and Latvian media, saying the design of the building involved in Latvia's catastrophic supermarket collapse was "a ticking time bomb."

He told ERR News: "The accident was caused by utterly flawed design, no doubt about it."

Sections of the steel structure connecting the roof to supporting pillars were far too weak to support the loads placed on them, he said.

"The engineers were clearly negligent," Kaljas asserted.

Similar design flaws exist in hundreds of buildings across Scandinavia and the Baltic states, Kaljas warned, showing a series of images from supermarkets he had visited in the last 24 hours that also contained potentially dangerous connections.

"It is in all shops, not just Maxima," Kaljas said.

"I spent yesterday looking at other supermarkets in Latvia. Most of the design work was great, but I saw other connectors with flawed designs. And just one connection is enough because it is the weakest link."

Kaljas also brandished a bolt from the scene of the tragedy that he said had been given to him by a rescue worker and which reinforced his case that the wrong bolts had been used.

In Estonia, he told Delfi on Friday that the bolts should be much thicker and that there should have been twice as many of them. He showed drafts of the girders to demonstrate how a domino effect could have started. 

Kaljas denied to ERR News that he was seeking publicity for his civil engineering consultancy business and was motivated simply by a desire to help raise engineering standards and prevent future tragedies.

"When I heard President Bērziņš asking for help from foreign experts I did not hesitate. I started work on my report straight away," he said.

"I did speak to Latvian police, but because I am not certified they were not interested. But the people who designed the building were fully certified. You can fake certification, but not expertise," said Kaljas, who is a doctoral researcher at Finland's Aalto university.

Only improved education and proper peer-group checks could prevent future accidents, Kaljas said.

"We need high-tech companies that are checking the engineers. Those doing the checks need to be even more competent than those making the initial calculations," Kaljas said.

Possible Defect Found at Maxima in Estonia

In Estonia's own independent review of at-risk buildings, experts who checked a Võru Maxima store found over the weekend that one junction in the metal roofing structure could be defective, reported uudised.err.ee

Maxima Estonia decided to immediately take action to reinforce the junction and close the store for the duration of the work, which they said could be done in the course of today. The employees were promised full compensation for the lost day.

Based on reporting by Mike Collier in Riga

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