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Nation & World

Building collapse victims ID’d; rescue efforts end

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia officials identified the victims in Wednesday’s building collapse as emergency crews completed their rescue operations Thursday around 4:45 p.m.

The six people killed were: Anne Bryan, Roseline Conteh, Borbor Davis, Kimberly Finnegan, Juanita Harmin and Mary Simpson. The city did not provide ages nor addresses.

Injured were Margarita Agosta, Shirley Ball, Linda Bell, Betty Brown, Rodney Geddis, Felicia Hill, Daniel Johnson, Rosemary Kreutzberg, Myra Plekam, Susan Randall, Jennifer Reynolds, Richard Stasiorowski and Nadine White.

Plekam was pulled from the rubble in critical condition Wednesday night, shortly before midnight — 13 hours after a three-story building at 2136 Market St. flattened the adjoining, one-story Salvation Army thrift shop.

As investigations of the collapse intensify, city officials conceded Thursday that there is no requirement for inspectors to check on demolition sites while work is underway.

Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Carlton Williams, at a news conference Thursday morning, said inspections are only required before work begins and once it is finished, but he left unclear whether the pre-inspection was ever done at the former Hoagie City building at 2136 Market St. Williams walked away while reporters were pressing him to clarify the situation.

Williams said the city code does not require applicants for a permit to show any special qualifications. The demolition contractor, Griffin T. Campbell, was convicted of insurance fraud in 2009.

When asked if “anyone with $300 and a pickup truck” could get a demolition permit, Mayor Michael Nutter said, “The short answer is ‘No.’ ”

Williams said that in response to a citizen complaint on the city’s 311 line, an L&I inspector had visited the adjoining building at 2134 Market on May 14. That building was also being torn down by the same contractor, and the inspector had no objections to the work, Williams said. At that time, no demolition had begun on 2136 Market, Williams said.

The Salvation Army Thrift store collapsed Wednesday when the wall of 2136 toppled onto it, trapping the victims and prompting bystanders to rush to the rescue.

Williams said no other complaints had been received before Wednesday.

Nutter said everything surrounding the demolition work that apparently caused Wednesday’s deadly collapse is the subject of a wide-ranging investigation involving L&I, the Police and Fire Departments and the District Attorney’s Office. On Thursday afternoon, Nutter announced an aggressive inspection campaign, including all four construction and demolition sites connected to Griffin Campbell Construction, the demolition contractor at the 2136-38 Market Street site. The city slapped the contractor with violations at two sites, 1300 Walnut St. and 320 Butler St., and issued stop-work orders at those sites.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections “is also undertaking proactive inspections of all active private demolition sites throughout the City,” the mayor’s office said in a press release. About 100 demolition permits have been issued this year, according to the mayor’s office. As of Thursday, the Department had inspected about 30 of 300 sites with open demolition permits issued since 2009, the release stated.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is also investigating the collapse, confirmed it has an open inspection initiated on May 15 in response to a complaint of falling hazards at the demolition site. An agency spokeswoman said the agency has no history involving Campbell prior to that inspection.

Pat Gillespie, head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, said two union members who were working at the nearby Mutter Museum contacted both OSHA and L&I the day before the collapse about problems they had seen at the site.

The union workers did this after walking to the site and complaining to the workers there about the danger. The union members were ignored by the people at the site, Gillespie said.

OSHA and city officials made no mention of receiving any complaints on Tuesday.

Nutter said the collapse scene remains the subject of an active search, although police and firefighters have temporarily halted picking through the rubble.

Just before the news conference began, work crews with heavy equipment started removing walls standing near the 25 percent of the site that the mayor said needs to still be searched.

“The operation going on now is the making safe of the search area,” Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said.

Rescue crews had picked through the piled of rubble through the night under bright lights.

The biggest drama of the night came about 11:45 p.m. when a rescue worker heard a cry from under debris at the front of the store and firefighters carefully uncovered Plekam, 61, of Philadelphia.

She was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she was reported in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit Thursday morning.

HUP said that the five other victims of the collapse brought there for treatment, three others — two women and one man — remained under observation in stable condition.

A firefighter, who wouldn’t give his name, was one of the people who helped get Plekam out from under the rubble.

“She was pretty well buried,” he said. To free her, he and his colleagues had to cut through metal and pipes, and peel back plaster and wire lath. Then, the workers had to keep her spine as straight as possible as they slowly moved her into a waiting ambulance.


©2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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