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Aerial view of a building that suffered a sinkhole in its structure due to rainwate.
Aerial view of a building that suffered a sinkhole in its structure due to rainwate.

Sinkholes threaten luxury property in Chile’s resort city

It was meant to be paradise on earth: a luxury apartment building standing just a few meters away from the beach with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

However, intense rains that have lashed Chile in recent days caused a giant sinkhole to open underneath this high-end property in the resort city of Vina del Mar, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

The 13-floor building with 200 apartments worth up to $500,000 each is now sitting atop a hole that is 15 meters (50 feet) long and 30 meters deep, the third such hole that opened here in less than a year.

Sergio Silva, 77, one of the few residents still left at Euromarina II, was trying to shove some of his belongings into a car to take them to a safer place because more rains are expected.

“We are taking important things, not everything,” Silva told AFP.

Residents of the building that stands below Euromarina II, at sea level, have also had to abandon their homes for fear that it would collapse on them.

“Some people have left out of precaution. Those of us who remain are prepared in case of emergency or if we have to evacuate,” says Claudio Camus, 43, a resident of the Eurovista building that stands beneath Euromarina II.

‘Impudent’ sale

The high-end property is located on a 28-hectare dune field that until 1994 was part of a state-protected nature sanctuary. But a change in regulations allowed high-rise and high-density construction in the area, and there are currently 44 luxury buildings here.

Then, in August and September last year, two landslides undermined the foundations of three other buildings: the Kandinsky, Miramar-Renaca and Santorini. Even the coastal road has been cut off due to the broken pavement. “The risks that were taken by building there are gigantic,” Vina del Mar mayor Macarena Ripamonti told AFP, adding that the real estate was “sold in a very impudent manner.”

The urban expansion on the dunes posed a clear risk -- and intense storms, the result of the El Nino weather phenomenon or the consequences of climate change, proved the critics right. “It is a fragile sector that should have been preserved,” says urban planner and mayoral candidate Ivan Poduje, calling it a “bad urban planning decision.”

Experts say the sinkholes are caused by overflowing rainwater collectors. While engineers work to fix the water collection system, Ripamonti, the mayor, says she will leave nothing to chance: “I am not going to allow another building to be built there.” — AFP

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