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Three arrested over deadly Batumi collapse

11 October 2021
The ruins of the seven-storey residential building on 26 May Street in Batumi. Photo: MIA.

Three people have been arrested in connection with the collapse of a residential building in Batumi which left nine dead, including three children.

Those arrested are the owner of a first floor flat of the building, Zaur Budatov, and two construction workers allegedly hired to make renovations to the flat, father and son Husein and Giorgi Surmanidze.

According to the Interior Ministry, construction and renovation work in the flat was carried out ‘in gross violation of safety rules’, leading to the building’s collapse.

The building collapsed with several people inside at around noon on 8 October. After almost 30 hours of work by search and rescue services, only one person trapped under the rouble survived.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the renovation work that led to the disaster was carried out without permission and ‘in violation of any engineering and safety rules, without the participation of a specialist with relevant engineering knowledge.’

‘The defendants dismantled both non-load-bearing and load-bearing structures [walls], thus disrupting the strength and durability of the residential building’, they said in a statement. 

Batumi Deputy Mayor Lela Surmanidze stated that ‘repair works inside the house do not require a permit from the City Hall’, and that they had no idea what was being done inside the building.

The three have been charged with breaching safety regulations and property damage leading to deaths, and face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The suspects have been remanded into pre-trial detention and their trial is set to begin on 1 December. 

The lawyers representing the three plan to appeal their pre-trial detention and have stated that there is no evidence that their clients acted with indifference, insisting they worked according to a work plan.

According to RFE/RL, the building was built in 1978 and was originally designed as a 5-floor building, although a sixth floor was added during construction. Another floor was added in the 2000s, and 5–6 years ago, a lift was added to the entrance.

Tbilisoba cancelled

Monday was declared a day of mourning by Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili.

‘I express my deep sorrow over the tragedy in Batumi, my condolences to the family members and relatives of the victims’, he said. ‘Together with them, the whole of Georgia mourns this horrible tragedy. […] The state will provide all relevant assistance to the victims of the incident.’

Tbilisi mayor and General Secretary of the ruling Georgian Dream Party, Kakha Kaladze, said that the money earmarked for Tbilisoba celebrations would instead be given to the victims. This year’s Tbilisoba was panned to be held entirely online, with almost ₾500,000 ($160,000) allocated for the event. 

The EU Delegation in Georgia also published a statement of condolence.

‘On this national day of mourning, we grieve the lives tragically lost in Batumi. Our thoughts and condolences are with their families and friends’, the statement said.

Twelve families living in the neighboring building have been temporarily relocated to hotels.

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