The death toll from Wednesday’s Center City Philadelphia building collapse has risen to at least six, Mayor Michael Nutter announced shortly after 11 p.m. In addition to the fatalities, another 13 people were injured when a building being torn down at 22nd and Market streets collapsed onto an adjacent Salvation Army store around 10:45 a.m.
As Wednesday evening wore on, emergency personnel kept picking through rubble. Ambulances arrived at the scene, then pulled away minutes later. Rescuers were working hard at the brightly site deep into the night.
Nutter said that one man and five women died in the collapse. He asked the media to be sensitive in allowing authorities to notify families before any names of the deceased were reported.
According to media reports, the man who died was a Salvation Army Thrift Store employee from Delaware County named Borbor Davis, whose family has been notified.
“This has been a tough day in the city of Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “But we are a tough city.”
He noted that the Salvation Army has often come to the rescue of people in need, and said this disaster was an occasion for the city to rally to the aid of the Salvation Army.
At an earlier briefing, Nutter confirmed that a 35-year-old woman died in the the collapse. Officials said the family had requested that no further information be released.
One woman was pulled from the rubble of the Salvation Army thrift store two hours after the collapse when rescuers heard her voice, city fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said. Rescuers were using buckets and their bare hands to move bricks and rubble.
As the search continued into Wednesday evening, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said 14 people had been located.
“We have actually rescued, removed, 14 people from the site,” he said about 3 p.m. “We have 13 of those persons who have been transferred to hospitals.”
Nutter called the process of sifting through the rubble “very delicate work” and urged people to stay out of the area, between 18th Street and the Schuylkill River and from the Ben Franklin Parkway to Walnut Street. SEPTA bus routes that run along Market Street have been detoured.
Those closings made it a tough rush hour in Philadelphia Wednesday evening.
Passers-by pitch in
The four-story building, undergoing demolition, collapsed about 10:45, sending debris onto a Salvation Army corner thrift store next door. The properties are adjacent to the site of an adult bookstore and theater that had been taken down earlier.
Jordan McLaughlin, 18, said he was walking past and stepped in to help with early rescue efforts.
“There was people that had their arm stuck between a wall and the building collapsing,” he said.
He said he helped pull people from the rubble.
“We found four or five people right away and then the first responders came in,” he said. “The first couple of firefighters they came and they didn’t tell us to move because they still needed our help but then eventually they pushed us away and told us to leave.”
McLaughlin said he saw several people on the ground being given oxygen by rescuers after the collapse.
“It was hard to breathe, there was a lot of dust everywhere,” he said.
Sio Russell works nearby and is thankful more people were not killed or injured.
“It’s a sin that it happened but if it had happened earlier … I know that it would have been a very busy place if it had happened at lunch time because I know a lot of people go in there during their lunch just to do a little thrift shopping,” Russell said. “I was very surprised that it was completely demolished and it’s so flattened.”
Another woman, who lives nearby, said she was worried about the demolition project. With tears in her eyes, she said she was not surprised by the collapse.
Dogs assisting on the scene
Ayers said K-9 units were brought in to assist search and rescue crews.
“We have two dogs that have come out to work the pile to locate others, so we know where we can dig. We’re preparing for a 12-to-24 hour operation,” said Ayers about 3 p.m. “We will be on the pile, removing a little bit at a time debris from that area so we can finish our search.”
He said manpower will be rotated as necessary and street closures in the area of 22nd and Market will continue indefinitely.
Three area hospitals treated victims of the collapse: Thomas Jefferson, Hahnemann and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
“We received four victims from the scene, one male and three females,” said Dr. Betsy Datner in the emergency medicine unit of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “They were all conscious and talking on arrival and are in stable condition but all still being evaluated for their injuries.”
Roofers help with rescue
Witnesses said they heard a loud rumbling immediately before the collapse.
Veronica Haynes was on the fifth floor of an apartment building across the street.
“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,” she said. “Then you saw the whole side of the wall fall down … onto the other building.”
Roofers Patrick Glynn and Anthony Soli were working atop a nearby building when they heard what sounded like two loud bangs or explosions. They immediately ran down the scaffolding to look for victims, and helped pull out two women and a man.
Glynn said he had been watching workers take down the building next to the Salvation Army building over the past few weeks, and said he suspected a collapse was inevitable because of the methods the workers were using to tear it down.
“For weeks they’ve been standing on the edge, knocking bricks off,” he said. “You could just see it was ready to go at any time. I knew it was going to happen.”
Bernie DiTomo was driving past the Salvation Army building in his white pickup truck, on his way to an appointment, when the collapse occurred.
“The next thing you know, I heard a rumble, and a building and a sign fell on my truck,” he said.
He said he lay down in the seat of his cab. It was probably over in about 30 seconds, he said. There was a lot of dirt and dust that he breathed in, but he was able to open the door and get out, unhurt. His truck remained nearby, partially covered in debris, as DiTomo watched recovery efforts from across the street.
Demolition project had a permit
Carlton Williams of the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections said there were no existing violations on the building and the demolition company had proper permits for the work it was doing.
The property at 2136 Market St. secured a demolition permit in February, according to Philadelphia’s Licenses and Inspections department. The listed contractor is Plato A. Marinakos Jr.
Reached on the phone, Marinakos said he was “just the applicant for the demolition permit.”
“I’m surprised,” he said. “I’m really sad, too.”
Marinakos said the demolition contractor was Campbell Construction, and provided a phone number. A man who answered the phone there hung twice up on WHYY. Officials at the scene also confirmed that Campbell was the demotion company involved.
City officials said Campbell had all the necessary paperwork to perform the job.
‘Porn king’ connected to falled building
A man known as the “porn king” is connected to the building that fell into pieces.
His name is Richard Basciano, and according to Philadelphia officials, he is a company officer at STB Investments Corporation, which owns the building.
Basciano is well known for once owning pornographic theaters in New York City. STB Investments also owns several properties near the building that collapsed, including what used to be a porn establishment called the Forum. It was recently closed.
According to an Inquirer article last year, Basciano said he wanted to get out of the porn business and redevelop the area.
According to court records, the owner of the company doing the demolition, Griffin Campbell, pleaded guilty to insurance fraud in 2009.
Attempts to reach Basciano and Campbell were unsuccessful.
A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter says Campbell is properly licensed. He says the city does not conduct a criminal background check before issuing licenses for construction contractors.
WHYY reporters Brian Hickey, Elizabeth Fiedler, Zack Seward, Tom MacDonald, Aaron Moselle and Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.