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When a Place in the Sun Becomes a Place in the Mud

OVER the past month of torrential rain, one could be forgiven for thinking the west coast of Cyprus is literally sliding away under the weight of a development boom. The death of a couple, swept over a bridge by a flash flood on Monday, has highlighted a problem that many have been warning about for […]

OVER the past month of torrential rain, one could be forgiven for thinking the west coast of Cyprus is literally sliding away under the weight of a development boom.

The death of a couple, swept over a bridge by a flash flood on Monday, has highlighted a problem that many have been warning about for some time now. A few weeks earlier, a mudslide ploughed through a Paphos hotel, with guests miraculously escaping injury. Serious questions are now being asked regarding the safety of the area, and many are blaming planning authorities and construction companies for cutting corners, not following the correct regulations and, as a result, creating an unsafe residential environment.

Phil Keating and his wife Lindsay purchased a property a few months ago in the village of Pissouri. Drawn to the idyllic site, they assumed it would be the perfect place to pitch up following his retirement from the RAF. But within months of moving in, a disaster occurred that could easily have ended in tragedy. Phil Keating has describing it as one of the most terrifying moments of his life.

At the end of their newly landscaped garden sits their newly built swimming pool. Beside the pool stood a garden shed, behind which was a 30-foot wall against a bank of earth, on top of which is a 300-year-old goat farm.

During the heavy rains of nearly three weeks ago, Phil Keating went out to the shed to check if the contents were staying dry. All was OK, so he returned to the house. Seconds later, there was a mighty crash from outside, as the 20-foot wall collapsed, crushing the shed and filling the garden with a heady mix of mud, water and goat faeces. Over £50,000 worth of damage has been caused by the disaster.

“I’ve served as a fighter pilot in the RAF for 35 years, I’ve seen action in several parts of the world and been shot at on numerous occasions, but I’ve never been as shook up as I was by the collapse of that wall. Had I been in the shed I would almost certainly have been killed.”

The problem was that adequate drainage had not been put in, causing a build-up of water in the soil, eventually causing the wall to collapse.

Finding those responsible is more complicated than one might assume. Aristo, the developers who built the property and the properties surrounding the Keatings, deny that there was anything wrong with the wall, describing the incident as an “unavoidable act of God” for which they “accept no responsibility”.

The construction manager from Aristo told the Cyprus Mail: “We designed the wall in the normal way. The water [above the house] was not directed by the authorities to the correct place. The drainage was not our responsibility, but that of the authorities.”

But Petros Foutas from the Pissouri Municipality denies that this is the case. “All the developers have an obligation to sort out the drainage. It is Aristo’s responsibility, which is in accordance with the agreement in the planning permission to do so.”

While the blame game continues, the Keatings remain in limbo. According to the couple, the goat farmer denied the developers the permission to put in the drainage. “We get on very well with the farmer, and we understand that he is fully within his rights to deny the developers. The problem is not the farmer. But everyone wants to blame the farmer.”

Aristo insist their response was immediate, and they are now building a new wall, a fact Phil Keating has acknowledged.

“The developers immediately started to rectify the situation, and the site engineers are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances,” he said. “But we still find it very hard to accept it was an act of God alone.”

An independent survey has been commissioned, the results of which will be released next week. The surveyor told the Cyprus Mail that he was unable to comment on the case before the report had been released, but he could say that any construction plans “must be approved by the authorities”, and that any new building work should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

If Aristo’s ‘act of God’ explanation is correct, then all the Keating’s can do is pray that their new wall won’t succumb to the same fate as the first.

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