By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A tragedy happened yesterday, April 21st, in São Conrado in Rio’s Zona Sul (South Zone) as many of the city’s residents were out and about enjoying the feriado, or bank holiday. A fifty-meter stretch of the newly built elevated coastal cycle path collapsed and fell into the sea and onto the rocks killing at least two. Coastguards continue to look for victims.
Witnesses said that a large wave crashed over the cycle path and onto the adjacent road, dousing cars, bicyclists and pedestrians. A bus windshield was broken and a woman was pushed to the ground by the force of the water. It is thought that an undertow destroyed part of the structure, causing the path to flip upwards before falling and crashing onto the concrete siding below.
Damian Pinheiro de Araujo, a bicyclist at the site, told O Globo newspaper, “People stopped on the bike path, they though it was beautiful and stayed taking pictures of the waves. They were enormous. An even bigger one came, the bike path lifted up and a section of it dropped. I saw the people falling. It’s sad. Every time the sea rises it cuts up the bike path, it is part of nature. For me it was poorly planned.”
The section of path that collapsed ran above a large entrance to a sewage channel 800 meters from São Conrado beach which is west of Leblon. Two weeks ago, Tom Robinson, a British expatriate living in Rio, walked the ciclovia and commented on how it shook at that particular point.
“We stopped to take photos of the waves crashing against the sea wall further ahead of us. At the same time I noticed that the ciclovia beneath us felt very unsteady. I mentioned it to my friends but thought nothing of it. It’s really dreadful what happened, I genuinely trusted that in 2016 the engineers would do their calculations correctly for a structure on the Atlantic Ocean to withstand even the strongest of waves.”
Having been built at a cost of R$45 million (US$12.6 million) and opened less than four months ago in time for the Olympics, many are seeking answers to how the accident could have happened.
“I almost died,” Guilherme Miranda, who was passing the site at the time of the collapse, said to O Globo. “The whole press is here. Where is the mayor, where is the engineer who did this work? It is? HOPELESS to see people dying in front of you. Someone has to give an answer for this, for the R$45 million. They had just opened it and it is already cracked in several places, I pass here every day to get to and from work.”
Rio’s Municipal Secretary of Coordination, Pedro Paulo Carvalho, said on Thursday that an investigation would be opened and that accident was “unforgivable”. Engineers from Geo Rio, the Municipal Secretary of Works and from Concremat, the company responsible for the path’s construction, have been summoned.
Antonio Eulalio, a civil engineer and advisor at CREA-RJ, Rio’s regional council for engineering and agronomy, thought the collapse could have been caused by a weakness it the design. “The problem is that an exceptional force was not considered in this project because the wave managed to lift the bridge.”
Adding “I think it was a design flaw. It had practically no resistance for this moment. With two supports it could not manage to resist the force of the rotation that came when the wave hit. It was the project design failure. It was not planned for in the project; it should have been.”
The collapse happened just hours after the Olympic torch was lit in Greece before it travels to Brazil to arrive in Rio de Janeiro in August to mark the beginning of the Olympic Games. Rio’s mayor Mayor Eduardo Paes was in Olympia for the ceremony but returned immediately to Rio. “It’s unforgivable what has happened, I am determined to investigate the facts immediately and I’m going to Brazil to watch closely,” he said in a statement.
The ciclovia was inaugurated on January 17th ahead of the 2016 Olympics and was designed with the Games in mind. It runs between the upmarket neighborhoods of Leblon and São Conrado and was due to continue to Barra da Tijuca where the Olympic Park is.