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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Andrea Blanco

Everything we know about ‘horrible’ building collapse in Iowa as rescue crews continue to comb through the rubble

Quad City Times

Rescue efforts at the site of a building collapse in Davenport, Iowa, took an alarming turn when city officials announced plans to demolish what’s left of the structure - amid fears that multiple people could still be trapped inside.

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 and no deaths have been reported, according to Davenport Fire Chief Michael Carlsten. The ninth person rescued was Lisa Brooks, The Quad-City Times reported early Tuesday, more than 24 hours after the collapse — and following statements by Mr Carlsten on Monday evening that “no one was believed to be trapped” under the wreckage.

Her granddaughter Pauletta Joeanna had previously told The Independent that Ms Brooks, who lived in apartment 403, was on the phone with another relative when the building collapsed.

City officials acknowledged that the Davenport Police Department has yet to account for all known residents of the building in a news release Monday night. Yet, plans to demolish the building continued amid protests by family members concerned that their loved ones could still be under the rubble.

The release did not indicate how many people are unaccounted for, but two men, Ryan Hitchcock and Branden Colvin, are feared by family members to still be in the building, The Times reported. On Tuesday morning, a crowd gathered in front of the building with signs reading “Corruption Collapses Communities” and chanting “Save Branden, save Ryan!”

With a fence and a line of police officers between the dilapidated remains of the building and the crowd, city officials were nowhere to be found as of 8am local time on Tuesday.

Firefighters are seen rescuing Lisa Brooks from the Iowa building collapse (Pauletta Joeanna)

The transition into a recovery phase and plans for the demolition were announced on Monday afternoon but in a later news release, the timeline was vague.

“The building remains in imminent danger of collapse with the condition on-site continuing to worsen,” it stated.

“It is the opinion of the structural engineer that the debris pile is currently contributing to the stability of the building and that removal could jeopardize or accelerate the inevitable collapse of the building. Building officials are working with Valley Construction on a plan to safely dismantle and demolish the remaining structure.”

That release came as around 150 protesters gathered at the building to insist more work be done to locate anyone who could still be trapped in the wreckage, according to The Times.

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 (AP)
A firefighter climbs through the wreckage of the collapsed building (AP)

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

Municipal council member Kyle Gripp 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,” Mr Gripp said.

“The property is currently being secured by a contractor on site this afternoon and demolition is expected to commence in the morning.”

However, a subsequent news release was more vague on the timeline for the demolition - coming as it remains unclear how many people remain unaccounted for.

At least two men are still missing

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.

According to Quad-City Times reporter Gretchen Tesken, city officials were nowhere to be found as of 8am local time on Tuesday.

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 (AP)
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 (AP)

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 Quad-City Times reports the builder owner is 41-year-old Andrew Wold. According to a profile published on the outlet’s website 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 on Monday.

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. Authorities said they have been unable to locate some residents of the building because they do not have cell phones.

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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