Australian Cinema Ceiling Collapses in Severe Storm

According to reports coming in from various news entities, the storm only lasted about 20 minutes but that was enough for water to collect to the point of collapsing the ceiling at a movie cinema complex in Bathurst, Australia.  Fortunately, of the 46 people initially trapped, all were freed by rescue workers.   No one was seriously hurt and only a few were hospitalized for treatment.  

The collapse occurred at 12:45 PM (AEDT) on Monday January 3, 2011.  Two internal ceiling structures within the five movie rooms at the facility were impacted.  Heavy rains were accompanied by high winds (up to 50 mph) and some hail.  Detailed weather information for the area can be obtained from Weatherzone.com.au .  Bathurst is located in central west New South Wales. 

This is the second roof collapse in the Bathurst area in recent weeks.  A Woolworth’s supermarket experienced a roof collapse last month, also from heavy rains.   Elsewhere in Queensland Australia, heavy rains falling since mid December have resulted in severe flooding and extensive damage.

A flat or low slope roof covers the cinema which can be seen in the Google Street photo accompanying this post.  More detailed information concerning the event including  photos of the facility, the rescue effort and interior damage were published in an article by the Wauchope Gazette .  The cinema has been closed indefinitely and engineers have been called in to perform a forensic analysis of the event.

Rain can be a significant load on a structure, especially with flat or low sloped roofs.  Many parts of the US experience heavy downpours as part of their expected weather patterns.  The recent heavy rains on the California Coast resulting in flooding, mudslides and other damage are a typical example.   In addition to the problems of roofing damage and leaks, low slope roofs are of particular concern in these types of weather events due to the danger of ponding.  All flat and low slope roof structures should be designed for serviceability including deflection and the possibility of ponding.  Positive roof drainage is critical and can be accomplished by sloping the structural members or by using tapered insulation as a part of the roof assembly.   If  roof drains are undersized, improperly located or blocked with leaves or other debris, the problem is compounded.

A number of significant historical roof failures and roof collapses have heavy rains and water ponding as a contributor.  One of the most well known cases is that of the Kansas City Kemper Arena,  which collapsed in June of 1979.  A detailed review of that collapse can be found on Failures Wiki or via this direct link:  Kemper Arena Roof Collapse.

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