Fatal building collapse at 22nd and Market, rescue ongoing

UPDATED: 7:30am, 6/6/13

A four-story building at 2136-38 Market Street was being demolished this morning when it collapsed at about 10:40am, taking with it much of the Salvation Army building on the southeast corner of 22nd and Market. Rescue operations continued through the afternoon, and are expected to go on through the night as people continue to be rescued from the rubble. Among the very first responders were bystanders and construction workers nearby, followed by throngs of emergency personnel. 

Six people, one man and five women, are confirmed dead. Their bodies were all recovered from the Salvation Army store. Around midnight last night a 14th survivor was found after more than 13 hours being trapped in the store, the Inquirer reports.

This was the view from the roof of RiverWest Condominiums on the 2100 block of Chestnut Street Wednesday afternoon:

The collapse site from above, from the RiverWest Condominium's rooftop.
(Ashley Hahn, EOTS)

Eyewitnesses described a fog of dust and debris that filled the air following a noise “like an explosion” one said.

Roofers working on the Mutter Museum building on the same block heard the collapse and rushed to the scene.

John Bowers, a roofer with Local 30, said he heard the collapse, saw the cloud of dust and rubble and ran down from the roof to help along with seven or eight of his coworkers.

When they rounded the corner, Bowers said they saw the destruction and acted on instinct, picking through the rubble by hand trying to rescue those they could see or hear. He said they helped free three people by tossing bricks and moving beams.

“I didn’t know what to do but I was there, you know. It was just a reaction. I knew people were hurt,” Bowers said still shaken from the events. 

NBC 10 is reporting that 13 people have been rescued from the collapse site so far and one person has died. Others could still be trapped; the Salvation Army building has a retail space in its basement where shoppers and staff could have been at the time of collapse.

The area closest to the scene remains blocked, from 20th to the Schuylkill and Chestnut to Market. Surrounding blocks are crowded with emergency vehicles of every sort, from fire and police to K9 and Pennsylvania Search and Rescue teams. As active search and rescue operations continue, a sea of yellow helmets is visible at the scene, both on the street and inside the collapse site.

Throughout the afternoon office workers and passersby gathered at the police cordon to survey the scene. A teary-eyed painter working on a project nearby leaned against a building on 22nd Street making calls, saying he knew someone on the demolition crew and didn’t yet know if they were safe. Trader Joe’s workers wheeled several crates of fruit across the street to emergency responders.

It is too early to know the exact cause of the collapse, but the Business Journal reports that a construction worker from another nearby site saw crews remove steel beam that destabilized the building just before it fell.

The property that was being demolished [photo] was one among several on the 2100 and 2200 blocks of Market Street being razed by 87-year old blightlord, Richard Basciano. As the Inquirer’s Inga Saffron points out, the condition of Basciano’s crumbling empire was neglected by the city through multiple administrations.

The Hoagie City building is the one that collapsed, crushing part of the thrift store next door, during demolition. | Flickr user: sameold2010
(Flickr user: sameold2010 | creative commons)

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