A structural engineer’s report issued last week indicated a wall of a century-old apartment building in Iowa was at imminent risk of crumbling, yet neither the owner nor city officials warned residents of the danger days before the building partially collapsed, leaving three people missing and feared dead.
The revelation is the latest flashpoint after Sunday’s partial collapse of the building in Davenport, where residents have lashed out at 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,” Mayor Mike Matson said on Thursday. “I have regrets about a lot of things. Believe me, we’re going to look at that.”
City officials said on Thursday that they did not order an evacuation because they relied on the engineer’s assurances that the building remained safe.
The state’s search and rescue team, search dogs and cameras were used on Thursday to continue combing the building for missing people. Matson said crews were also consulting with experts about how to safely bring down the structure, which remains extremely unstable, while being respectful of bodies that could be buried in the debris.
The six-story building collapsed shortly before 5pm on Sunday. Rescue crews pulled seven people from the building in their initial response and escorted out 12 others who could walk on their own. Later, two more people were rescued, including a woman who was removed from the fourth floor hours after authorities said they were going to begin setting up for demolition.
Earlier this week, authorities said five people were missing, but Davenport’s police chief, Jeff Bladel, said during a media briefing on Thursday morning that two of them have since been accounted for and are safe.
City officials named those unaccounted for as Brandon Colvin, Ryan Hitchcock and Daniel Prien. The city said all three “have high probability of being home at the time of the collapse and their apartments were located in the collapse zone”.
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 200% of the federal poverty level. Money also will be available for businesses in the building and those nearby.
The city administrator, Corri Spiegel, said the building was probably “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.
Matson said he and others spoke on Thursday with officials from Miami-Dade county, Florida, about how they responded to the collapse of an apartment tower in 2021 that killed 98 people.
The city on Wednesday night 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 24 May, just four days before the collapse, suggested patches in the west side of the building’s brick facade “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 facade is currently about to topple outward”.
Despite the warnings, city officials did not order that about 50 tenants leave the building.
Rich Oswald, the city’s director of development and neighborhood services, said officials relied on assurances from the structural engineer hired by the building owner. The engineer said the building was not in imminent danger of collapsing on residents.
Andrew Wold, the building’s owner, released a statement dated on Tuesday saying “our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants” and that his company, Davenport Hotel, LLC, is working with agencies to help them.
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