Corner Brook building was 'tragedy waiting to happen'

A Corner Brook building that was shut down on short notice last week was a tragedy waiting to happen, says the minister responsible for the department that closed it.

Inspectors found more than 30 violations related to electrical system

The Pho Vietnam restaurant was forced to close on short notice last week after inspectors deemed the building unsafe. ((CBC))

A Corner Brook building that was shut down on short notice last week was a tragedy waiting to happen, says the minister responsible for the department that closed it.

The building at 27 Humber Rd. housed a popular Vietnamese restaurant, as well as several apartments.

But city officials received a complaint about the wiring last week, triggering an inspection on Feb. 6. The next day, municipal and provincial inspectors, aided by fire officials, scoured the building and found more than 30 violations.

"We had to shut that down right away," said Service NL Minister Dan Crummell. "There coud've been a fire, or somebody could've been electrocuted. If we had to wait another day and something had to happen it would've been a total disaster. We're amazed that a tragedy did not occur before."

Many violations

The raft of problems included improper grounding of wires, extension cords used as permanent wiring, improper placement of panels, lack of ability to cut power to individual apartments, and work done by unqualified people without permits.

"It's a seven-page report," said Crummell. "Usually these reports, these compliance field orders, are one page long. This is over 30 listed deficiencies, so it was a serious situation and we absolutely had no choice but to cut power to the building."

The site had passed an electrical inspection in 2005, but Crummell said a slew of risky changes had been done since then.

"It was fine and dandy in 2005, and there was no need to do any inspections since then."

He also noted the restaurant itself passed all inspections related to its operation.

"But there were life-safety concerns (with the electrical) for everyone, including customers in the restaurant. It was a very serious, very unusual situation."

The sudden closure has left the owner of the Pho Vietnam restaurant, Thy Nguyen, as well as the eight tenants in the building, with uncertain futures.

Nguyen was forced to move quickly, with the help of friends and customers, to salvage and store fresh food until she can find a new location, or until upgrades are made on Humber Road.

Robert Pennell said he was only given an hour's notice to leave his apartment last week due to serious electrical problems in his building. ((CBC))

At least one displaced tenant said he doesn't know where he'll be living next week.

For now, the province is paying for temporary hotel rooms.

"(The government) got us put up until Thursday," said Robert Pennell who's on social assistance. "If we don't find a place by then, I don't know what's going to happen ... if they're just gonna keep us here until we find places or put us out on the street to freeze to death."

The building's owner, Janet Ma, has been unavailable for comment.

But Crummell said she is co-operating with an order to bring the structure up to code.

"We've spoken with her and she's committed to hiring a qualified electrical contractor to upgrade the system. But that's going to take time ... to find a contractor, get the permits, and get the work done. We'll then evaluate that work. She has to go through the same process that everyone else has to go through."

Crummell said while it was a difficult situation to deal with, it was not a difficult decision to make.

"I can sympathize with the owner of the restaurant and the tenants. Unfortunately, the lives of many people have been impacted, through no fault of their own, but for the right reasons."