‘We may have to sleep in the car’
All evacuated residents from 131 apartments in a high-rise Sydney tower block have been forced to find their own accommodation.
After occupants were hastily evacuated from Mascot Towers late last night - due to structural concerns - most have spent the morning organising their own emergency accommodation.
Residents of the two-tower, Church Ave complex at Mascot near Sydney Airport were urgently evacuated overnight after a "large crack" suddenly appeared in the "slab beams in the primary building corner", raising concerns of an impending collapse.
Police cordoned off the area and fire trucks parked outside as state engineers inspected the property and firefighters made their way through the complex evacuating occupants in scenes eerily similar to the Opal Tower debacle.
According to a spokesperson from Police and Fire Rescue NSW, temporary housing had been set up at Mascot Town Hall on Friday night and residents were also evacuated to apartments nearby. Some residents stayed with friends, others said their employer had helped out with alternate accommodation while one family spent the night in Mascot Town Hall, according to AAP.
On the advice of authorities, news.com.au visited both locations promising temporary housing only to find no trace of it. By 11am this morning, apparently none of the temporary housing was in use.
"All residents have found alternative accommodation so the temporary housing was no longer required," a spokesperson confirmed to news.com.au.
It was a very different story from confused residents, wandering around with suitcases this morning.
Two international students - Leo and Belinda - huddled on a bench in the cold, cuddling their pet cat.
The couple told news.com.au: "We haven't heard anything, there's nowhere for us to go.
"All our family and friends are overseas," said Belinda, while Leo added, "We can't go to a hotel with a cat."
Resident Elicia, 37, understands their struggle.
"There are lots of international students here. My neighbours are always changing. So for them, it would be pretty heavy. Most of them just rent a room, and most of their friends just rent a room so there's really nowhere to go."
"One of my neighbours, she doesn't even know what's going on because she doesn't speak English," Elicia explained.
"And I was telling her, 'You need to leave now.' And when her son came home, he told me, "Oh we don't need to leave. The police told me I don't need to go,' but his apartment was on the list!"
The mum-of-two wasn't even home when the evacuations started.
"I was out, so I was taken by surprise when I came home. I saw big fire trucks around here and thought 'Oh it's probably a fire alarm' - which happens all the time," she said. "But then I saw the police car and thought something's not right."
Evacuations started shortly after 8pm.
"It was 8.10 when I was told to pack my things and we were told we weren't allowed to go back in after nine," said Elicia.
"There was very little communication, we only got two emails. But to be told that you can't go home when you have cats and kids and it's the middle of the night on Friday and we were just texting everyone like crazy."
The family were fortunate enough to find alternative housing through a friend.
"Lucky one of our friends is an AirBnB host. He found us a place that were happy to take the cats as well, we juts have to pay extra for the cleaning. But at that time, we thought if nothing happens, we may have to sleep in the car."
Amid the evacuations, people rushed to find somewhere to spend the night.
"There was no plan. It was just whatever you could find to get off the street."
She described how residents had to use side streets to get their belongings out of the building, as residents weren't allowed back into the carpark.
"I didn't get to see [the damage], but I was told the joints were exposed, you could actually see the cracks. And when you were in the building, there was a slight feeling of imbalance. I thought it was just me but when people talk about moving and feeling unbalanced, it makes sense now."
The evacuation notice received by residents warned that they could be out of home for at least a week, "pending further monitoring of the beams."
"It will be a process, it won't be a simple fix," warned NSW Fire and Rescue Superintendent Adam Dewberry. Nor will it be a cheap fix, as Elicia pointed out.
"I'm paying $150 a night, and that's a bargain because it's a friend who's doing us a favour. But $150 a night in Zetland, it's not cheap."
This is the second mass building evacuation to make headlines in a matter of months, after 3000 residents were forced to evacuate the Opal Tower building in Sydney's Olympic Park.
"I never thought what happened at Opal Towers would happen to us," said Elicia, echoing the concerns of many Mascot residents. "For me, it's the uncertainty that's looming over me rather than what's happening right now."
The evacuation comes amid claims the building has been plagued by issues for years.
Shop owners in businesses said they had noticed cracks on their walls and ceilings start to develop five years ago. And now, residents are fuming that they had to pack up their lives in minutes due to long running issues.
"We've been living here for five years now. They're always maintaining the building, we've never been here without the tradesmen coming in and out," said Elicia.
"But if you look at that building right next to us, when they were building there was shaking all the time. So if this damage was caused by that or if it was a structural problem, we don't know yet. We have no idea. The problem is, we don't know whose problem it is to fix it."