Iowa building collapse: What we know about Davenport apartment disaster

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City officials in Davenport, Iowa, have admitted that five residents of the building that collapsed this weekend are still unaccounted for – a day 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 at around 5pm on Sunday following reports last week that bricks were falling off the building and several complaints from tenants about their living conditions.

Nine people have been rescued from the wreckage as of Tuesday morning, according to Davenport Fire Chief Michael Carlsten. The ninth person rescued early Tuesday, more than 24 hours after the collapse, was Lisa Brooks — following statements by Mr Carlsten on Monday evening 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.

Davenport Mayor Mike Matson admitted during a press conference on Tuesday that the Davenport Police Department has yet to account for five residents of the building. Two of them, Ryan Hitchcock and Branden Colvin, are feared to still be in the building.

Confronted by reporters, Mr Matson said 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.

Firefighters are seen rescuing Lisa Brooks from the Iowa building collapse

(Pauletta Joeanna)

“In the interest of public safety, the City has been continually evaluating the timing of the demolition of 324 Main Street since its initial collapse 36 hours ago,” a city strategy officer told KWQC in a statement on Tuesday morning.

“Demolition is a multi-phase process that includes permitting and staging of equipment that will begin today. The timing of the physical demolition of the property is still being evaluated. The building remains structurally insecure and in imminent danger of collapse.”

That release came as a crowd gathered in front of the building with signs reading “Corruption Collapses Communities” and chanting “Save Branden, save Ryan!”

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:

What happened?

Rescuers were called to the scene shortly before 5pm on Sunday. 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 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.”

Davenport residents listen to an official update on the building collapse on Monday morning


A firefighter climbs through the wreckage of the collapsed building


Recounting the moments leading up to the collapse, second-floor resident Robert Robinson also told the Quad-City Times that he walked outside for a smoke break and went back in as alarms went off.

“When we started to go back in the lights went out,” he told the newspaper. “All of a sudden everybody started running out saying the building collapsed. I’m glad we came down when we did.”

Mr Robinson and his girlfriend were able to take the elevator down just in time, he said.

“This is horrible,” he said. “We don’t have anywhere to go. Nothing to eat.”

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.

Demolition plans laid as two tenants feared trapped under wreckage

City officials said in an update on Monday evening that the building is not salvageable and will be torn down on Tuesday.

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 on Tuesday that authorities faced a challenging decision, as experts recommend 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.”

Ms Woods said she learned Ryan Hitchcock was also unaccounted for during a meeting with police on Monday. A woman who police said is related to Mr Hitchcock noted during the press conference on Tuesday 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.”

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 Tuesday’s press conference. “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.”

Ongoing repairs

Residents of the building had long complained about issues with it. Last year, nearly 20 permits were filed, mainly for plumbing or electrical issues, according to the Associated Press. The last permit for the building was filed on March 2 and had “misc” listed in the description.

Officials confirmed at Monday’s press conference that the building owner had permits to make exterior wall repairs.

The facade of the red brick building was ripped off, exposing the apartment units inside


The rear part of the building was left exposed after several apartments came down on Sunday evening

(Quad City Times)

Tadd Machovec, a contractor from Davenport, said he was inside and was working to put up a support beam when the building came down.

Resident Todd Wilson said that he received a call from the city last year telling him to evacuate his apartment within 48 hours because bricks were falling off.

“What they did was they switched ownership and they gave them time to fix it, but they didn’t do it properly,” Mr Wilson told the Times.

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.”

Emergency crews work the scene of a partial apartment building collapse in Davenport, Iowa


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 Thursday for an inspection.

“The tenants told us the building was going to collapse,” Ms Smith said.

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.

According to a profile published in The Quad-City Times in 2016, Mr Wold is an avid real estate buyer with a large portfolio.

“I like to buy blocks,” he said at the time. “I like to be able to control the area, to kind of police it.”

A working phone number for Mr Wold was not immediately available.

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.

First responders from the Iowa and Illinois Quad-Cities region wrapped rescue operations on Monday afternoon.

A school bus drives past the wreckage after the building collapse on Sunday

(Quad City Times)

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 Center for Active Seniors (CASI) is serving as a shelter for those impacted. Residents in need of accommodation are asked to call the American Red Cross at 1-800-Red-Cross for details.

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