For Patricia Rodrigues, the first warning that the double-fronted villa would fall on her street came on Tuesday at 12:10 p.m. when the police knocked on the door.
Just seven doors down the five-story £ 8.5 million property had collapsed under the night sky – and she slept through it.
“We were woken up when the police knocked on the door and told us to evacuate. We had to leave at the last minute, ”says Patricia, 35, who fled to safety with her two-year-old daughter and is still visibly shaken.
“A tenant in our apartment block said it sounded like a small earthquake.
“Another resident was in bed and the children were sleeping. They screamed (when they heard the sound) and she came out and saw the "smoke" where the debris had fallen. "
As one astonished viewer put it, "The roof just collapsed inward and destroyed the entire interior."
Forty residents in one of the most exclusive areas of London then faced the cool November air in pajamas as ambulances flashed and police sirens howled.
The collapsed building in Chelsea took up numbers 2 and 3 of Durham Place and belonged to Angela Ashcroft
“The council tried to find accommodation for everyone. The fire department was here with these big drones because they were worried about gasoline, ”says Patricia, who works as a caretaker in the luxury block where she lives.
“I think that's actually surreal. I never thought we would see that in our lives, especially here in Chelsea. Maybe in a remote part of the world, but not here. "
Emergency services worked all night to support the remains of the 18th century row of houses and luckily no one was injured.
The collapsed building may have been a home, but it took up Durham Place numbers 2 and 3 and belonged to Angela Ashcroft, 59, daughter of late Hollywood executive Arthur Abeles and his wife Audrey, a former model who died that year.
Angela and her real estate developer husband, David, 61, were graciously absent when their home collapsed and only found out after a resident called to spread the bad news.
"Angela is extremely upset," a friend told the Mail. “It was her family home. She has lived there all her young life so this is a real shock to her. "
"The insurance company needs to investigate what happened," added the family friend.
The question now is why on earth Ms. Ashcroft's beloved home collapsed like a house of cards.
"Anger is not the right word," said the friend. "They don't know if to be angry – or if someone is being held responsible for it."
With the Health and Safety Executive investigating, it seems very likely: The catastrophic collapse was caused by construction on their property – or that of their neighbors.
Heartbroken: Angela Ashcroft (pictured), 59, owner of the collapsed building, and her real estate developer husband David, 61, were graciously absent when their home collapsed and only found out after a resident called to inquire about it spreading bad news
The Ashcrofts recently started work on a new stern extension and deck above. The locals also wonder whether an “iceberg” cellar is to blame.
Over the past two decades, oversized cellars – sometimes several stories deep – have become increasingly popular with the super-rich. They can house swimming pools, cinemas and gyms, or even garages.
Loved by celebrities like Damien Hirst to Roman Abramovich, there are an estimated 5,000 of them in the capital – with a total depth of over 50,000 feet – but they are controversial ground to their neighbors because of the tremendous disturbance they cause above and below.
Experts say they are poorly built and have the potential to damage homes up to 15 meters on either side.
At least two residents of this 11 lot street have so far dug the ground under their homes to create underground extensions – including Ashcrofts' neighbor at number 4, who received planning permission from Kensington and Chelsea last January.
"We don't know if (the collapse) is connected to any buildings," said Ashcroft's friend, who acknowledges that "there are deep cellars created in other buildings on the street."
The owner of number 4, a successful businessman, didn't want his name associated with any public number, but he's far from feeling embarrassed about his own recent construction and is furious at the way how events were handled this week.
"It is very happy that no one died. It is very happy that no one was hurt, but the emotions and problems that my family and I have caused are absolutely terrible," he says.
Angela Ashcroft was the daughter of the late Hollywood executive Arthur Abeles and his wife Audrey, a former model who passed away this year. Pictured: the wedding of model Miss Audrey Hanson-Lawson to Arthur Abeles
Although the front door of his house is still boarded up and there is scaffolding in place, he says his basement work is indeed complete.
"The collapse of this unit has nothing to do with us," he said. “We share a wall. I know as much as you do. "
A spokesman for the occupational safety and health officer, who is legally empowered to prosecute those who break the law or fail to comply with an improvement or prohibition notification, would not comment on the incident, but said: “HSE is aware of the incident and is making initial inquiries. & # 39;
The London company responsible for the basement of number 4 and London Building Control, the company overseeing the operation of numbers 2 and 3, also declined to comment.
What do independent experts believe could have been the cause?
Although the Ashcrofts did not build a basement, they would have dug underground as they worked in their garden so that new steps could be built down to the existing basement.
However, Alan Lace-Evans, technical director of the Perega building construction company, believes this likely had no structural impact.
More likely, he says, are "shortcomings" in temporary support measures for changes to the interior walls of the house.
However, Sean Keyes of Sutcliffe Civil and Structural Engineering says work on the neighboring mega basement may have played a role as the lots share a party wall.
"If a cellar construction was recently completed next door, chances are that work contributed to the problem."
He added that there was also the possibility that problems with Ashcroft's property would have exacerbated problems in the mega basement next door.
Because not only a piece of land next to an “iceberg” house can be affected, those that are further away can also suffer.
"A four-story building (basement) can easily be 12 to 15 meters in either direction, possibly down two lots," says Keyes.
And, according to Keyes, a problem caused by your neighbors' basement could affect your insurance premium and affect your own home if you sell it. “Would you buy a house if it had been structurally damaged?” He asks. "At least that would affect the value."
Under the Party Wall Act, the homeowner who builds the basement is liable for any damage to his neighbor's property.
Forty residents in one of the most exclusive areas of London faced the cool November air in pajamas as ambulances flashed and police sirens howled
Whatever the result of the research, many locals are fed up with it – not least because basement developments are said to have taken place at number 7, which supposedly has a swimming pool, and similar plans are in the pipeline for number 5 and 6, believed to be another single property.
There are security concerns, not to mention the upheaval. Mega cellars can take months to build.
"The problem is that they have been working there for so long," says Patricia Rodrigues, who was allowed to return to her apartment at 2:30 am on Tuesday.
"They've been removing mud from number 4 since at least February, Monday through Friday."
Another resident, who lives on Durham Place with his young family, said he had asked the local council what checks had been carried out to make sure the road works were safe.
"They are old buildings and there is a lot of digging in the deep basement and you could see the dirt coming out of number 4," he says. "I just want safe controls and good plans to be followed."
A neighbor thinks it is wrong for so many cellars to be dug up in quick succession, resulting in months, if not years, of chaos. "It's ridiculous," she says.
Kensington and Chelsea, London's richest neighborhood with around 5,000 high net worth individuals who can afford the millions it takes to turn London's sands into luxurious play areas with pools, cinemas and gyms, have looked at more basement applications than almost any area of Great Britain.
According to a study, these added up to 1,147 between 2008 and 2017.
Part of the surge in popularity is due to planning constraints preventing residents from adding height to their plots. It's also because mega-basements increase the price of a house tremendously.
"The cost of building a basement is tremendously small compared to the value you can sell it for (i.e., it's a good investment)," explains Paresh Govind, general manager of Hira Construction, on the construction of cellars in London.
"But it is becoming more and more popular for councils to reject construction based on local objections these days."
Over time, says Caryl Harris, chair of the South Kensington Residents' Association, who lives nearby, says she has been battling the council over basement superstructures for years.
Although the Ashcrofts did not build a basement, they would have dug underground as they worked in their garden so that new steps could be built down to the existing basement. Pictured: Before the collapse
“We have enough cellars here, my God. We had a basement collapse here two years ago and it did a lot of damage. The whole page fell in because it was unstable. The one across from me is three floors below. People built 28-foot swimming pools. "
Meanwhile, local celebrities have made almost as much a fuss as the mounds of excavated mud dumped in front of their stucco-faced houses.
In 2015, Queen guitarist Brian May supported a local businessman's campaign to stop, as May put it, "bastards in the basement" turning Kensington and Chelsea, where he has a £ 11 million house, into a "hellhole." "transform, while actress Joan Collins said that" shocking people are looking for swimming pools and bowling alleys in their Belgravia neighborhood when they only live two or three months a year ".
The councils have put in place measures to make building more difficult. In 2015, Kensington and Chelsea, recognizing that residents "had experienced years of misery from noise, vibration, dust and construction site traffic," refused to approve more than one story basements.
It was also decided that they must not attack more than 50 percent of a garden, as opposed to the previous 85 percent.
A basement tax of £ 8,000 was introduced near Westminster the following year. Yet for every wealthy resident who opposes iceberg extensions, others have fought for their right to live underground.
In 2016, Charles Delevingne – father of models Cara and Poppy – became embroiled in a row with neighbors after getting permission to build a two-story basement under his South Kensington home.
In 2017, a group of 100 residents in south-west London, including the late writer Judith Kerr and former Newsnight host Peter Snow, lost an offer to prevent video game manager Nick Pointon from falling under his three-story Barnes estate 1,700 square meter basement is being built.
Snow claimed their area was not built on "soil strong enough to build cellars".
According to Paresh Govind, problems are usually caused by homeowners – even the rich – choosing cheaper, inexperienced contractors to build them.
Central London is also at risk of getting gravel soaked in the ground dug for a basement.
"In recent projects, we had to pump grout into the gravel beneath the adjacent property foundations because when you excavate it, it interferes with the flow of water through the gravel, which could cause it to sink," says civil engineer Alan Lace-Evans.
Meanwhile, the Ashcrofts seem heartbroken determined to stay open.
“I think the most important thing is that this was a family home. It has been in the family for years, ”says her family friend, who wants to highlight another, perhaps equally relevant, fact.
"You definitely haven't built a basement."
Additional coverage: Stephanie Condron
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