Race against time: copper thieves put hundreds of lives at risk
Some of the effects of the copper theft from an apartment block in Amadora earlier this year

Race against time: copper thieves put hundreds of lives at risk

Five buildings in Cascais area report gas leaks “of large dimensions” 

Authorities are racing against time to catch what they believe is a team of thieves, stealing metal and copper from apartment building gas systems.

Thefts so far have seen five serious incidents in the last week, requiring the evacuation of hundreds of people from their homes, and the disconnecting of gas supplies.

As fire chief Pedro Araújo has explained, just one ‘slip’, like pressing a lift button, could have caused a deadly explosion of the kind seen earlier this year in Amadora.

The Amadora explosion may well have been a result of work by the same criminal gang: a fire, in a lift (and caused by someone pressing for it) ignited gas that had leaked freely due to the theft of a copper valve, and essentially destroyed the building, as well as causing widespread damage to parked cars below.

As it is “by a miracle” the latest five incidents have passed without casualties, Parede fire station commander Araújo has told Correio da Manhã.

The first incident took place on August 29 in Praceta Alfredo Manuel Fernandes. “The smell of gas alerted residents. The theft of a gas meter was detected and 30 people were evacuated”, he told the paper.

Last Sunday, a similar incident was flagged in Rua José Relvas, requiring the evacuation of another building – and then on Monday evening came the worst: over 250 people had to be evacuated from three buildings after leaks and thefts were discovered in buildings in Praceta Natália Correia (gas tubing removed from two floors), Avenida dos Maristas and Rua do Rio Tejo (where gas meters were stolen from no less than eight of the 10 floors).

Says Pedro Araújo: “In each of these situations conditions of explosivity were similar, if not superior, to what happened in Amadora in March. It was just through lack of ignitions that there wasn’t an explosion…”

Cascais mayor Carlos Carreiras joined people in a tower overlooking Avenida das Maristas on Monday, in an effort to show ‘support’ for what is now a major inconvenience to many locals’ lives. The buildings affected cannot reinstate gas supplies until all the material has been replaced and thoroughly checked.

Says CM, the likelihood that these thefts are the work of the same group is high. The buildings affected are all within easy reach of the A5 motorway “which helps escape”. Authorities will now be trawling through CCTV cameras to see if they can marry up any vehicles with the incidents – a massively painstaking task, while the perceived threat to life in the area has suddenly increased exponentially.