A RECENTLY built six house estate in Armou near Paphos is in imminent danger of collapse after it was constructed on land locals had long been warned was unsafe.
The development looks like an earthquake has struck. All of the houses show serious structural problems, from slanting floors, to the partial collapse of stairs, walls, swimming pools and patio areas. Outside drains are now exposed in one garden and retaining walls have been split apart.
Two of the access roads to the development are currently impassable with giant gaps in both, and huge pieces of tarmac have been dislodged. The third is barely useable, and may also be out of action at any time.
And just one more week of rain could see the homes falling down completely according to the president of Paphos’ architects and civil engineers association, Chrysostomos Italos.
“I have been to see these residents about six times, I feel very sorry for them. If there is rain for a week then everything could collapse,” said Italos who is carrying out a report into the damage.
“If the rain stops, their homes will be safe – for now.”
“Our dream has turned into a living nightmare,” said one worried homeowner Geoff Higgs who contacted the Sunday Mail in desperation after appeals to government authorities went unheard.
Despite appearances to the contrary, the sudden subsidence hasn’t been caused by an earthquake. According to three of the four British homeowners at the site, it’s debatable whether the land was fit to build on at all with all of the homes experiencing structural problems for a number of years.
But the recent spate of bad weather and a regular water leak in the area have compounded the damage leaving residents concerned for the future of their homes, their own safety and the financial impact.
Tragically for the residents, it appears as if the area where their houses were built, just below the church in the picturesque village, was well-known among locals as being unsafe.
“Everyone in the village knows that below the church isn’t a safe place to build. When I was a small boy, I was told to be careful of this area and not to go there in bad weather,” said Armou mukhtar, Panikos Hadjitheoris.
Italos says he was approached by a number of the home owners to prepare a report, which he says will be completed next week.
“The area where the houses have been constructed is at the bottom of the village of Armou and it is of soft clay. I don’t know if the initial design was correct, how it was designed, and if all of the correct investigations were carried out. I presume it was built correctly, but I don’t know,” he said.
“Initial estimations should have taken into account if there was any danger posed by the surrounding area, not just the spot where the houses were constructed.”
He added that he has warned residents to keep an eye on the movement and if it speeds up they should leave their properties for their own safety.
Simon Phillips bought his house in June 2008. Just four years later, his garden, pool area and exterior retaining walls are now covered by a maze of gaping holes and wide cracks. He is fearful for the safety of his wife and two daughters, aged 10 and 12.
“In Feb 2010 there was some movement, but nothing as drastic as this,” he said.
Phillips says that builders have done some cosmetic repairs, but with the recent series of water leaks in the road, combined with heavy rains, the movement over the last couple of weeks has been “ridiculous”.
“I’ve got gaps of more than a foot wide with two metre drops outside; I’ve got open drains and open cesspits. I feel unstable and the stress factor and the disappointment are overwhelming,” he said.
“All of the damage here has happened very quickly and every day we are measuring the gaps which are getting bigger and bigger.”
Higgs said that JNM, the local company, has been uncommunicative and unhelpful.
“The developer came up here and had a look around. He is difficult to get hold of and doesn’t react. He doesn’t do anything.”
Repeated calls to JNM by the Sunday Mail to speak to the company’s director were not returned.
Higgs and his wife took delivery of their ‘dream home’ seven and a half years ago. He says JNM were late completing his house but that was just the start of the problems.
“The road was completed only last year, and the authorities and the developer are now in disagreement as to who has responsibility for the road,” he said.
A water pipe which runs under the road is continuously leaking due to the movement of the land and this is compounding the problem for the development of houses which are built below.
“This water leak first happened a few years ago. The land is moving and pulls the pipe apart and now there is another split further down.”
“The area and our homes look like they’ve been under a mortar attack,” he said.
“My wife is in a real state. This is our retirement destroyed. They’ve taken our home, our money, our kids’ inheritance and they don’t seem to care.”
Hadjitheoris, the mukhtar of Armou for the past five years, said he felt very sorry for the residents and is doing what he can to help. The stricken development was built before he took office.
“These people put their trust in their lawyers and advisers. If they had asked anyone in the village or the local council, they would’ve been told that the area wasn’t safe. I feel very sorry for them.”
According to the mukhtar, there are two or three leaks from the water pipe every day.
“We keep spending village money to repair them. We are looking at solutions to resolve this problem, such as using different pipes.”
He said the estate was giving Armou an unwarranted bad name as it was only the small area below the church which was unstable and the rest of the village was safe to build on.
“I don’t think anything should’ve been built on this area and I believe further studies and investigations should’ve been carried out before any building commenced,” Hadjitheoris said.
The community chief met with the developer in his office in February, following a meeting with the district office which he says are aware of the situation.
“I told him to go to the district office himself and find a solution, which he promised to do.”
Graham Slyper, another resident, who owns a four bedroom house, has seen movement since last year but he says the problem has become far worse in the last couple of months.
“Underneath the pool there is a rear retaining wall with a drop down the other side of about 2.5 metres and the crack is now open by 26 cm. As a consequence, it’s now hollow underneath and the earth is running away every time there is rain.”
The UK-based chartered surveyor said, “We didn’t know at the time, but it seems as if the land should never have been built on. The house is on piles but everything around it isn’t. In particular the front and back retaining walls need to be piled. If that could be done, the development could be stabilised.”
The houses behind the development further up the hillside have also been experiencing problems in recent days.
“They came to see us on Sunday as their gardens are now slipping. If nothing is done, everything above us will come down in this direction.”
Italos said further investigations of the area needed to be carried out.
“There are some ways in which this development can be saved. Specific investigations need to be done, followed by special structures which could be erected, such as supports like piles,” he said. “Who will pay for these I really don’t know.”
A number of the homeowners have issued court proceedings against the developer.
GIVEN Cyprus’ long experience of landslides and having to move whole villages to new locations, you would think that the law would prohibit the construction of property on unstable land. Unfortunately, this is not the case!
Problematic villages in Paphos include Agios Photios and Statos, Choletria, Theletra, Episkopi, Marathounda and Armou. Following devastating landslips at Agios Photios and Statos, the Government moved both villages to a new location. Choetria & Theletra villages were also relocated after suffering similar disasters.
In 2006 heavy rains caused major problems in Paphos including the flooding of properties, flash floods, mudslides, traffic chaos and power cuts. A couple died when their car was swept off what appeared to be a badly-constructed bridge.
At that time, one local estate agent said the main problem was caused by developers building on unsuitable sites. “They buy cheap land on ravines, with water running through developments, and many buildings are not properly elevated from the road. Mass constructions also cause excess mud and dust to get onto the roads in large quantities, which cause traffic problems,” he explained.