It is a tragedy that brings to mind the collapse of Philadelphia’s Pier 34 in 2000 and the collapse of a parking garage in the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City three years later.
Six fatalities and 14 injuries are now confirmed. A 61 year old woman, Myra Plekam, was pulled alive out of the rubble 13 hours after the collapse. “That’s why we stay the course,” Ayers said. “This person being pulled out alive is what this rescue operation is all about.” Ms. Plekam was hospitalized in critical condition.
City officials will attempt to determine how this seemingly simple demolition job turned to disaster. The vacant four-story building collapsed during demolition. All that is left of the Salvation Army Thrift Store is an undisturbed rack clothes standing in the rear.
22nd and Market Streets is an active business area in the part of Philadelphia known to all as “Center City”. It is just 7 blocks from City Hall. “Buildings get demolished all the time in the city of Philadelphia with active buildings right next to them … they’re done safely in this city all the time,” Mayor Michael Nutter said at a news conference late Thursday morning. “Something obviously went wrong here yesterday, and possibly in the days leading up to it. That’s what the investigation is for.”
Civil engineers believe the tragedy could have been averted. They assert that the wall that collapsed should have been braced when the front of the building was removed several days ago. They also suggest that the adjacent thrift shop should have been evacuated.
Witnesses reported a loud rumbling sound just before the collapse. “I was standing there looking out my window, watching the men at work on the building, and the next thing I know I heard something go kaboom,” said Veronica Haynes, who was on the fifth floor of an apartment building across the street. “Then you saw the whole side of the wall fall down … onto the other building.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer has identified the demolition contractor as Griffin Campbell Construction, “a small operator in North Philadelphia with a history of bankruptcy and outstanding tax debts.” Campbell plead guilty in April 2009 to having filed a false insurance claim.
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