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Tragic worker's warning over Brazil stadium: I think I am going to die... I am sure of it

Wednesday, 4 December 2013 - 9:38am IST Updated: Wednesday, 4 December 2013 - 9:43am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Fear of further accidents as Brazil remains in shock over deaths at Sao Paulo arena.

Fabio Luiz Pereira was proud to help build the new Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo. The 42-year-old lorry driver dreamt of sitting in the spectacular new stadium with his three daughters on June 12 for the opening match of the World Cup.

But he also had a deep anxiety about the project, a fear for his own safety, even predicting he would be killed at work. Eight days ago, Pereira was crushed to death when the truck in which he was sitting was struck by a falling crane.

Ronaldo Oliveira dos Santos, a builder at the site, also lost his life. Brazil's preparations for next summer's tournament have long been troubled but this was a tragedy that shocked the country.

It could also hardly have come at a worse time, barely a week before the World Cup draw takes place a short flight away in Bahia. Wreckage from the accident was still visible days after it took place, work on the stadium having halted before resuming on Monday following a prayer for the fallen.

Pereira's truck also lay untouched, a haunting reminder of the horror that had unfolded. It was something he had foreseen, according to daughter Karen, who told Al Jazeera last week that he had warned her: "I think I am going to die at work - I am sure of it."

Those sentiments were echoed by Pereira's former boss and friend of eight years, Adilson Santos, upon returning to the scene of the accident.

"He always feared something like this happening," said Santos, who had been working on an adjacent infrastructure project and saw the tragedy unfold. Pereira's fears were well founded, according to the chairman of Sao Paulo's industrial workers union.

Antonio de Sousa Ramalho, who is also a state congressman, took to the airwaves almost immediately after the accident to decry the site as unsafe.

Ramalho said his deputy had been contacted by a whistleblower who claimed to have warned the construction company, Odebrecht, about a problem with the crane hours before it collapsed. Odebrecht's denial was swift and unequivocal: there had been no such prior warning.

A week later and with a police investigation into the accident well under way, no one has come forward to challenge that denial. The apparent whistleblower has fallen silent. "We can't reach him anymore," Ramalho told The Daily Telegraph.

"We call him but he doesn't answer." Asked for the informant's phone number, Ramalho changed the subject. There appears little incentive for the congressman to invent such a whistleblower. Indeed, such is the power of Brazil's biggest building firms, he arguably has much to lose by openly criticising one of them.

"People are walking on eggshells in an investigation like this because Odebrecht is highly political, they're highly influential in elections in every state," he said, claiming that even if police were to find evidence of negligence, no one would go to prison.

"They'll have to give money to charity for two years or something like that. Brazil has to learn from other nations, like the US, UK and others." Whether charges are brought could depend on whether Ramalho's whistleblower made a formal report on his concerns, with every construction site meant to have a logbook.

Those concerns are said to centre on a patch of uneven ground beneath the crane, possibly caused by wet weather. An initial inspection showed no evidence of this but reports have emerged that it is now being considered as one possible factor in the tragedy, with worn-out parts on the crane and human error being others.

Were the uneven-ground theory to be proven, it could add credibility to Ramalho's claims, as would evidence of faulty equipment. But the union boss feels even an element of human error would demonstrate there was too much pressure to get the stadium finished in time for Fifa's December deadline, which will now not be met.

The Sao Paulo deaths doubled the number of Brazil 2014 construction fatalities and Ramalho said: "Undoubtedly, there could be more accidents because of the rush to finish projects that were supposed to be finished with a different deadline. Delivering those in such a last-minute dash could impact terribly on builders and could kill more people."

That could be someone else's father or friend, but for now it is those closest to Pereira who are suffering. "He was like a brother to me," said Santos, stood feet from three memorial candles placed on a wall at the construction site.

"When we talked about life, we used to talk about family and plans and I was helping him with plans to build a new house for him and his family."

Santos said he was helping Pereira's wife and three daughters come to terms with their loss, while Ramalho has offered them the use of his union's lawyers in an attempt to get them the maximum compensation possible.

"He became a Corinthians supporter because of his daughters," Santos said. "He used to support Palmeiras but his daughters made him a fan of the club."

Revealing it was also Pereira's "dream" to see the World Cup opener at the stadium he helped build, he added: "Since that won't be possible, a good way to pay tribute would be to have his family here."


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