Questions about demolition firm arise after deadly Pa. building collapse

Search for victims ends with six dead, a dozen injured

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PHILADELPHIA — The search for victims of a building collapse that killed six people wound down Thursday amid mounting questions about whether the demolition company that was tearing down the structure caused the tragedy by cutting corners.

The four-story building along Philadelphia's busy Market Street collapsed Wednesday onto a Salvation Army thrift shop next door with a loud boom and a huge cloud of dust, trapping employees and others, including a woman on her first day on the job at the store.

"Buildings get demolished all the time in the city of Philadelphia with active buildings right next to them. … They're done safely in this city all the time," Mayor Michael Nutter said. "Something obviously went wrong here yesterday and possibly in the days leading up to it. That's what the investigation is for."

Despite Nutter's reassurances, Philadelphia began inspecting hundreds of demolition sites in the wake of the collapse. The Department of Licenses and Inspections said it had 300 open demolition permits throughout the city; inspectors had visited about 30 of the sites by Thursday afternoon and planned to get to the rest by next week.

The spot inspections included all four construction and demolition sites connected to Griffin Campbell Construction, the demolition contractor involved in Wednesday's deadly collapse. The city found violations at two sites and ordered a halt to the work.

As details of Campbell's checkered legal and financial past came to light, a city councilman charged that dangerous, under-the-radar teardowns are taking place throughout the city and demanded a stricter application and inspection process for demolition companies.

More than 24 hours after the collapse, the search for the dead and injured was nearly complete, with no one else believed to be in the rubble. Firefighters hosed down piles of bricks to reduce the dust, and heavy machinery scooped up debris.

Rescue efforts were buoyed early Thursday when a woman was pulled out alive and conscious after 13 hours under the rubble. Nyra Plekam was hospitalized in critical condition and was said to be floating in and out of consciousness. At least 12 others were hurt, many with minor injuries, and five remained hospitalized.

"That's why we stay the course," fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said. "This person being pulled out alive is what this rescue operation is all about."