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More trouble for Paris airport terminal

A day after a deadly roof collapse, new cracking sounds were heard Monday inside a terminal at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, and dozens of workers there were evacuated.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A day after a deadly roof collapse, new cracking sounds were heard Monday inside a terminal at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, and dozens of workers there were evacuated.

The scare came as officials said they were considering scrapping the entire Air France Terminal 2E after a 98-foot section of the steel, concrete and glass roof caved in at about 7 a.m. Sunday, killing four people. The terminal is closed indefinitely.

More than 30 people in airport offices and a nearby restaurant were evacuated Monday when the new cracking sounds were heard, airport director Rene Brun said. Airport staff will not be allowed inside until an analysis is completed, Brun said.

Separate area evacuated
Cracking and puffs of dust minutes before Sunday’s accident had proved a warning sign.

The area evacuated Monday is a separate structure from the tube-shaped boarding and waiting area where the roof partially collapsed. It is joined by small walkways. A third structure in the complex is reserved for checking in.

“We feared that there would be another problem,” said Corinne Bokobza, spokeswoman for the airport authority, known as ADP. “We’re taking no risks.”

The $890 million terminal was touted as a jewel of design, safety and comfort when it opened 11 months ago after several delays that the French TV network LCI said were due to safety issues.

Officials initially believed five were killed in the collapse, but lowered the death toll after searching through rubble. Two of the dead were Chinese travelers on a stopover at Charles de Gaulle on route from Shanghai to Mexico via Paris, the Chinese government said.

Three people were slightly injured — all police officers or security personnel called to the scene when cracking appeared minutes before the collapse of a portion of the terminal’s roof. They began evacuating people from the area minutes before the accident, perhaps sparing lives.

Building could be razed
The collapse has been an embarrassment for French authorities.

The building, the pride of the airport, could be razed if investigations prove it cannot be made safe, the head of the airport authority said.

“If all these rings that make up this terminal are irrecoverable, we’ll tear it all down, of course,” Pierre Graff was quoted in daily Le Parisien daily as saying, referring to steel rings that form a spine in the building. “We will take no risks when it comes to security.”

The futuristic building is a tube-like structure of concrete, steel and glass, hundreds of feet long, that stands on pylons above the ground. The ceiling is honeycombed with hundreds of square windows that flood it with light. With slots for 17 aircraft, the terminal was designed to handle 10 million passengers a year.

The collapse involved a 100-foot section of the roof, preceded by several loud cracking sounds. As the roof fell onto a waiting area, it pulled down walls and crashed through a boarding ramp onto several parked cars below.

“We are very touched by the cruelty of this collapse,” Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said as he examined the site. Investigations “will bring out the truth,” he added.

Could ground be settling?
Two investigations, administrative and judicial, were under way, and experts from some of the 400 companies that participated in the terminal’s construction went to the scene.

One hypothesis being studied is whether the ground underneath the terminal had settled, LCI television reported.

Paul Andreu, the terminal’s architect, was returning to Paris from Beijing, where he is working on a project to build the National Theater of China, said an assistant, Patricia Casse.

“I am completely stunned,” Andreu was quoted as saying in Monday’s edition of the French Communist daily L’Humanite. “I cannot explain what happened. I don’t understand.”

Francois Charrita, assistant director of operations at ADP, told France-Info radio, that “without a doubt” the investigations would focus on potential problems with construction.

A fault in design would, on the other hand, be unlikely because of multiple controls by experts, including independent ones, he said.