Five people remain unaccounted for after part of an apartment building collapsed in Davenport, Iowa, over the weekend, officials said Tuesday.
The remains of two people may be within the rubble, the city’s mayor, Mike Matson, said at a news conference, which came amid protests and criticism that the city was moving too quickly toward demolishing the building. The 116-year-old brick and steel structure, built as a hotel, had more recently been used as apartments and tenants had been allowed to remain even as bricks began falling from the building.
Following the partial collapse on Sunday afternoon, the city had announced plans to begin demolishing the building as early as Tuesday morning, but delayed after a woman was found Monday evening.
The rescue prompted officials to see if they could safely enter and ensure others weren’t inside, but that is extremely difficult when the building could collapse at any time, they said.
“This could be a place of rest for some of the unaccounted,” Matson said. The city is trying to determine how to bring down what remains of the building while maintaining the dignity of people who may have been killed, he said.
A relative of one of the missing pleaded at the news conference for people to “let the city do their job”, and said her relative wouldn’t want any more lives put at risk. However, the family of another person missing in the collapse has pleaded with authorities to do a full search before the building is demolished.
The building is “unstable and continues to worsen”, said James Morris, the fire marshal. A structural engineer says searches should be avoided near the debris because more could collapse and officials are considering that assessment before searching inside again.
“We’re very sympathetic to the possibility that there’s two people” still left inside, Morris said as he fought back tears.
On Tuesday, protesters held signs saying “Find Them First” and “Who is in the Rubble?” Some used a megaphone to shout out names of residents. The building had 53 tenants in about 80 units, the police chief said.
City officials said rescue crews escorted 12 people from the building shortly after a middle section collapsed at about 5pm Sunday, and rescued several others, including one person who was taken to safety overnight Sunday.
“There were a lot of screams, a lot of cries, a lot of people saying ‘Help!’ when the building came down,” Tadd Mashovec, a building resident, told KCCI-TV. “But that did not last, and two or three minutes, and then the whole area was silent.”
By Monday morning, officials said “no known individuals are trapped” and that the building’s owner was served with a demolition order, a process that would begin Tuesday morning.
The discovery of another survivor Monday evening, rescued by ladder truck from a fourth-floor window, prompted the city to re-evaluate, they said. The woman was pulled to safety only after popping out a window screen and waving to people gathered below.
“We had no indications from any of the responders that we had, any of the canines, any of the tools at the time” that there was anyone else left alive in the building, Morris said.
Patricia Brooks said her sister, Lisa, attempted to leave the building but rushed back to where she thought she could shelter most safely – in her bathtub. Brooks spoke with her sister when she was being evaluated at the hospital following rescue from part of the building that was still standing.
The family begged with police and city officials to find Lisa in the apartment starting Sunday, said daughter Porshia Brooks.
“They allegedly did a sweep and said they didn’t find anybody,” she said, arguing officials were trying to tear down the building without completing a proper search.
It’s unclear what caused the collapse, which left a gaping hole in the center of what was once the Davenport Hotel, a building listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Work was being done on the exterior at the time of the collapse, said Rich Oswald, the city’s director of development and neighborhood services. Reports of falling bricks were part of that work and the building’s owner had a permit for the project, Oswald said.
The fire marshal said Tuesday that the owner had also hired a structural engineer who determined that the building was safe enough to remain occupied during the repairs.
Authorities confirmed that residents had complained of unmet maintenance problems. The Quad-City Times reported nearly 20 permits were filed in 2022, mainly for plumbing or electrical issues, according to the county assessor’s office.
The collapse didn’t surprise former resident Schlaan Murray, who said that his one-year stay there was “a nightmare”.
Murray, 46, moved into his apartment in February 2022 and almost immediately had issues with heat, air conditioning and bathroom plumbing. Calls to the management company rarely got a response, he said.
He questions how the building, where he said he didn’t even want to bring his children, passed inspections. He moved out a month before his lease was up in March, and still hasn’t received his security deposit, he said. Many residents were like him, he said, struggling to come up with the first and last month’s rent, plus security deposit, despite deplorable conditions.
“It was horrible,” Murray said.
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