Two parts of the 6-kilometre tunnel being dug near Prague Castle collapsed on Tuesday, burying a worker for six hours and leaving a gaping hole in a garden of the Ministry of Culture. And it wasn’t the first time; the Blanka Tunnel has collapsed on two other occasions in the course of its construction, and concerned citizens and officials are losing their patience.
The Blanka Tunnel complex will be the longest municipal tunnel in Europe when completed, and it has a price tag to match: at more than 28 billion crowns it is the most expensive construction project ever undertaken in Prague. But money, it seems, cannot buy peace of mind. In 2008, a 15-metre-deep crater emerged in the middle of a protected natural park above the tunnel. Five months later the same thing happened again nearby, leaving an even larger hole, and on Tuesday another accident left one of the buildings of the Ministry of Culture in a strikingly precarious position near the edge of yet another large crater.
Remarkably, no one was injured in any of these incidents – not even the bulldozer operator who the Metrostav construction company spent six hours digging out of the rubble Tuesday morning. But with locals watching their walls crack in the frequent tremors and the city already having promised to serve up a culprit for the last collapse, everyone affected is at their wits’ end. As for the former group, many residents are demanding that their rent be reduced as their landlords work to repair falling plaster, and many are afraid, despite the fact that Metrostav promises a “1000% chance” that no buildings will fall into a sudden abyss. And where the politicians are concerned, the district mayor’s office demanded, to the refrain of “fool me once, fool me twice”, that the work be halted until someone – Metrostav, the Czech Mining Office, the police – can give a guarantee that the district will not be fooled a forth time. Meanwhile Pavel Bém, mayor of Prague and a man prone to occasional unexplained disappearances, has disappeared, and left the media to replay statements he made two years ago, saying he could not imagine that a culprit would not be found.
No culprit was found, by the police at least, but the media and the Czech Mining Office did find one. The office fined Metrostav 200,000 crowns for failing to adhere to preventative measures. Czech Television then found a confidential supervisory report early in 2010 that suggested that the city did not have sufficient technical or financial oversight over the construction, which swallows eight billion crowns each year. And so it is that on day two of the newest collapse, many a news headline wonders whether it be Pavel Bém and the Civic Democratic Party that go down the hole.
The police are now investigating the incident as a threat to public safety, promising a special commission decked out with foreign experts. For the time being work is halted; Metrostav says that it will now be filling the space to prevent any further collapse and will wait for the cause to be reported before determining how to excavate the mere fifty metres that remain to the end of the tunnel.