City officials in Davenport, Iowa, have admitted that three residents of the building that collapsed on 28 May are still unaccounted for – after announcing plans to proceed with the demolition of the unstable structure.
A rear section of The Davenport, a six-storey apartment complex on 324 Main Street, collapsed following reports the week before that bricks were falling off the building and several complaints from tenants about their living conditions.
Nine people were rescued from the wreckage, according to Davenport Fire Chief Michael Carlsten. The ninth person rescued more than 24 hours after the collapse, was Lisa Brooks — following statements by Mr Carlsten that “no one was believed to be trapped” under the wreckage.
“She’s at home, she’s fine now. She had passed out under the couch and the only reason she woke up, it’s because we were yelling her name,” Ms Brooks’ niece Pauletta Joeanna told The Independent.
Authorities admitted at two separate press conferences this week that the Davenport Police Department has yet to account for all residents of the building. Three of them, Ryan Hitchcock, Branden Colvin and Daniel Prein, are feared to still be trapped inside as of Saturday (3 June).
Search efforts were called on 29 May, less than 24 after the collapse, before they were resumed later in the week to rescue animals and search for the missing men. On 2 June, the city once again called off search efforts.
Confronted by reporters on 2 June on why valuable time was lost in the 48 hours without search efforts, a division chief with one of the search task forces said that they had to wait for the building to settle as it was unstable for the first 24 to 36 hours.
Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said on 30 May that “demolitions plans have been continuously evaluated” but refused to address whether Ms Brooks’ rescue was a determinant factor in the reassessment. Experts who spoke at the presser said another collapse was imminent if the demolition was delayed.
Fire authorities have since said they began the permitting process but will stage the demolition in a moderate and controlled manner at a later time.
“Demolition is a multi-phase process that includes permitting and staging of equipment that will begin today,” a city strategy officer told KWQC in a statement.” “The timing of the physical demolition of the property is still being evaluated. The building remains structurally insecure and in imminent danger of collapse.”
City Administrator Corri Spiegel said the building likely is “filled with asbestos” given its age, and the city will develop a plan to ensure workers and people in the area are protected when the remaining structure is demolished.
Crowds have gathered in front of the building to protest demolition plans. Mr Colvin’s 18-year-old son and several other relatives and family members have been camping outside of the building in hopes of putting pressure on city authorities.
Although the cause of the collapse has not been determined, some residents described the sound it created as an “explosion”. Mr Carlsten also said during a press conference that several 911 calls were placed by residents complaining about a “strong smell of gas.”
Residents living in the area reported that the building was known to have problems, including visible water damage and hairline cracks on the walls.
Here’s everything we know about the collapse:
Rescuers were called to the scene shortly before 5pm on 28 May. Mr Carlsten said the back of the apartment complex collapsed and had separated from the building, which houses apartments on the upper floors and businesses on the ground level.
Building resident Lexus Berry told The Quad-City Times that she narrowly escaped but her wife Quanishia and cats became trapped as the building collapsed. Ms Berry had just taken pictures of a separation between a wall and the bathroom doorway before she tried to make it to safety.
“We both grab our cats, she grabbed one, I grabbed one, got to the door,” Ms Berry told the outlet. “I watched her, and everything just fell down and everything fell on top of me, and I barely made it out the door … There was nothing left where I was standing at. Everything else was gone.”
In the aftermath of the tragedy, first responders worked tirelessly to evacuate tenants, initially rescuing seven people from the wreckage. For the first 12 hours that authorities were unable to locate Quanishia, her wife stayed in the area, anxiously waiting for updates and holding onto hope that Quanishia had survived the ordeal.
Search crews finally located Quanishia, who was trapped under debris, on 29 May.
“There was a lot of debris and things surrounding her and her legs were pinned down,” Lexus told The Quad-Cities Times. “They were able to get one leg out, but [her left] leg in order to get her out, they had to amputate it.”
Mayor Matson said trauma surgeons and first responders at the scene performed procedures to save lives. Like the Berrys, dozens of families who lived in the building lost their homes, belongings and pets.
What caused the collapse?
The cause of the collapse has not been determined, officials said. After responding to the scene, authorities found a gas leak after the collapse and water also had leaked throughout the floors of the structure.
Rich Oswald, City of Davenport director of development and neighbourhood services, said that work was being done on the building’s exterior after reports of bricks falling from the building last week.
On 31 May, the city released documents, including structural engineering reports, that show city officials and the building’s owner were warned that the parts of the building were unstable.
A report dated May 24, just four days before the collapse, suggested patches in the west side of the building’s brick façade “appear ready to fall imminently” and could be a safety hazard to cars or passersby.
The report also detailed that window openings, some filled and some unfilled, were insecure. In one case, the openings were “bulging outward” and looked “poised to fall.” Inside the first floor, unsupported window openings help “explain why the façade is currently about to topple outward.”
Despite the warnings, city officials did not order that the estimated 50 tenants leave.
Demolition plans laid as three tenants feared trapped under wreckage
City officials said that the building is not salvageable and would be torn down.
No residents will be allowed back into the building before demolition begins due to its unstable condition.
“The owner of the property has been served with a notice and order for demolition of the property,” Council member Kyle Gripp said.
“The property is currently being secured by a contractor on site this afternoon and demolition is expected to commence in the morning.”
Fire Marshall J Morris said that authorities faced a challenging decision, as experts recommended a demolition as soon as permitting is obtained, while family members fear that their loved ones are still alive under the rubble.
Johnnie Woods told The Des Moines Register that her nephew Branden Colvin, who lived in a fifth-floor apartment in the building, did not show up for a family gathering on Sunday night. The family’s attempts to locate him since have been unsuccessful.
Ms Woods said a neighbour of Mr Colvin’s told her he’d seen him moments before the collapse. Mr Colvin’s vehicle was also in the building’s parking lot and had to be towed after the tragedy.
“My other nephews and other people have been trying to call his phone, and he’s not answering his phone,” Ms Woods told the Register. “So we’re assuming something, that he can’t talk, his phone is dead, or something. Really, we don’t know anything.”
Police have said Mr Colvin, Ryan Hitchcock and Daniel Prein “had a high probability of being home” at the time of the partial building collapse. Their names have been entered in the National Database for Missing People.
A woman who police said is related to Mr Hitchcock noted during the press conference on 30 May that she agreed with demolition plans.
“I was completely mortified about the protests. These people raising a voice, and they don’t know Ryan,” Amy Henderson said. “The city does have a plan and pushing for any delays ... it’s one more day that he’s under there. Ryan wouldn’t want anyone else to put their lives at risk unfortunately for someone who probably has not survived.”
Animal rescued, second search for trapped tenants
The Humane Society of Scott County announced on 29 May that several animals were rescued and reunited with their humans.
Search crews combed through an area of the building, which was deemed safe enough for a second search, but did not find any signs of human activity, they said.
“We recovered 6 cats, 2 snakes, and 1 lizard, which were all the pets reported on our form that weren’t in one of the apartments where the building collapsed,” the non-profit announced earlier this week. “We’ve already reunited 4 cats, the 2 snakes, and the lizard with their owners, and the other two will be reunited shortly!”
The state’s search and rescue team, search dogs and cameras were again used on 1 June to continue combing the building for missing people. During a press conference on 2 June, officials said the search is now moving on to recovery.
Work to bring down the building comes amid questions about why neither the owner nor city officials warned residents even after a structural engineer’s report issued last week indicated a wall of the century-old apartment building was at imminent risk of crumbling.
The revelation was the latest flashpoint following the partial collapse that has left some residents upset with city leaders over what they see as an inept response.
“Do I have regrets about this tragedy and about people potentially losing their lives? Hell yeah. Do I think about this every moment? Hell yeah.” Mr Matson said on 1 June. “I have regrets about a lot of things. Believe me, we’re going to look at that.”
City officials said they did not order an evacuation because they relied on the engineer’s assurances that the building remained safe.
Experts have said the structure built in the 1900s is extremely unstable. Because of the layout of the building, with the rear brick part holding together much of the steel structure, officials said there were likely no void spaces where trapped victims could have taken shelter.
Authorities said its brittle condition is worsening with time and the possibility of another collapse is now imminent.
“We want to get everyone out, we want to do it right now,” Mr Morris said as he broke down in tears at a press conference on 30 May. “So understand, it’s not that we don’t want to do this ... it’s that we have to do it in a safe manner.”
Mayor Matson also praised first responders for risking their lives with their swift response and decried criticism sparked after the search was called off. He said surgeons were performing trauma surgeries in the surroundings of the collapsed building and firefighters had gone inside void places that were extremely dangerous to get into, with the only focus to save lives.
“All of those folks got here in the middle of the night, immediately assessing ... [knowing] that thing is unsafe and going anywhere,” he said.
“There heroes that have gone inside this building ... get off of that. Do you want to come at somebody? Here, I’m standing right in front of you. They’re the people who are saving lives.”
Allegations of collapse warnings
The city has been in contact with the building owner Andrew Wold. Mr Morris said that state agencies are coordinating what agency will take the lead in the investigation but no criminal charges have been filed yet.
Despite a myriad of reports from past and current tenants that the building’s conditions were unsafe, a structural engineer hired by the owner deemed the structure safe.
Ryan Shaffer, the owner of a local masonry company, told The Quad-Cities Times that he was approached by the building’s owner Andrew Wold in February about providing work to shore up the structure - which had reportedly been the subject of many complaints from tenants in the months prior - during ongoing repairs.
But when Mr Shaffer provided a quote upwards of $50,000, he claims Mr Wold turned it down because it was too expensive.
“He wanted to cut the cost by cutting out the shoring and supporting of the building,” Mr Shaffer told the Times. “I said, ‘If we don’t do it this way exactly, I’m not putting my guys in there. Somebody is going to die.”
Months later, Mr Shaffer said Mr Wold reached out again last week.
“[Mr Wold] was calling us and asking for I-beams and stuff to support it,” he said. “I looked at it and was like, ‘There’s no saving it at this point.’”
Mr Shaffer said he drove by the site two days before the collapse and warned workers: “Get away, you’re going to die.”
Last year, the building submitted nearly 20 permits, mainly for plumbing or electrical issues. Last week’s permit’s inspection for “framing before cover” appeared to be approved when the complex came down around 5pm on Sunday but now appears as “failed” on the City of Davenport website, local news station KWQC first reported.
When confronted about the change, a city spokesperson told the outlet that it was due to a “computer glitch” and that it should appear as “incomplete” but denied a Freedom of Information Act request for the physical documents. The Independent has reached out to the city for comment.
Iowa court records reviewed by The Independent show that Mr Wold and Davenport Hotel LLC are listed as defendants in a civil enforcement action brought by the City of Davenport on 30 May. Mr Wold faces a $300 fine for failing to keep the building “safe, sanitary and structurally sound condition,” WQAD reports.
It is unclear whether Mr Wold will have a chance to present his case before city officials before the fine becomes effective.
Despite a myriad of reports from past and current tenants that the building’s conditions were unsafe, a structural engineer hired by the owner deemed the structure safe, officials said.
Jennifer Smith, whose business is located in the building, said she first heard about the explosion from her husband, who works for Mid-American Energy.
“He was on call and got called in for a building explosion downtown. We had no idea it was our building,” Ms Smith told the Quad-City Times. “It sounds bad, but we have been calling the city and giving complaints since December. Our bathroom caved in December.”
Ms Smith said water damage has been apparent since they moved into their space in the winter. Her company’s co-owner, Deonte Mack, said fire crews were in the building as recently as three days before the tragedy for an inspection.
“The tenants told us the building was going to collapse,” Ms Smith said.
Assistance for the victims
Several law enforcement agencies responded to the scene. An air ambulance landed at the site of the emergency on Sunday night to transport victims of the collapse, while K-9 units and search crews combed through the wreckage.
Mayor Mike Matson said at the earlier press conference that he had spoken to state governor Kim Reynolds, who offered her assistance in the response to the disaster. Gov Reynolds said the Department of Public Safety, Homeland Security and emergency management officials are also assisting in the response.
“This is an active scene,” the mayor said. “We will continue to work, continue to evaluate, with the whole purpose of trying to find people and trying to get them out.”
The city announced that each displaced household would be eligible for $6,000 in addition to a $5,000 state grant for households up to 200per cent of the federal poverty level. Financial support also will be available for businesses in the building and those nearby.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies