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Mayor: 5 unaccounted for including 2 likely in wreckage of collapsed Iowa apartment building

By FREIDA FRISARO and TRISHA AHMED, Associated Press
Published: May 30, 2023, 10:16am
3 Photos
Damage is seen to The Davenport on Main Street in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday, May 29, 2023. A section of the six-story downtown apartment building collapsed Sunday.
Damage is seen to The Davenport on Main Street in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday, May 29, 2023. A section of the six-story downtown apartment building collapsed Sunday. (Nikos Frazier/Quad City Times via AP) Photo Gallery

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Five people remain unaccounted for, including two people whose remains may be in a pile of rubble at the site of a partially collapsed apartment building, officials of the city of Davenport, Iowa, said Tuesday.

Mayor Mike Matson confirmed the numbers at a news conference following criticism that the city was moving too quickly toward demolishing the building before making sure that no one is still inside. Protests erupted after a woman was rescued Monday night, hours after the city ordered the demolition to begin as early as Tuesday.

“This could be a place of rest for some of the unaccounted,” Matson said. The city is trying to determine exactly how to bring down what remains of the building in a way that accounts for the dignity of people who may have been killed, he said.

A family member of one of the missing people also spoke, pleading with people to understand that authorities want to bring the remains of the six-story building down in a controlled way without dumping more material onto the rubble pile. “I plead with community to let the city do their job,” the woman said.

The building is “unstable and continues to worsen as time progresses,” Fire Marshal James Morris said. “It’s the opinion of the structural engineer that any additional search operations in the area of that pile of debris should be avoided due to potential collapse. We are currently evaluating the risk assessment of where we can go back into that building to do this other search.”

“We’re very sympathetic to the possibility that there’s two people” still left inside, Morris said as he fought back tears.

Protesters carried signs Tuesday morning near the building site, saying “Find Them First” and “Who is in the Rubble?” Some used a megaphone to shout out names of building residents. The building had 53 tenants in about 80 units, the police chief said.

City officials said rescue crews escorted 12 people from the building shortly after a middle section collapsed at about 5 p.m. Sunday, and rescued several others, including one person who was taken to safety overnight Sunday.

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“There was a lot of screams, a lot of cries, a lot of people saying ‘Help!’ when the building came down,” Tadd Mashovec, a resident of the building, told KCCI-TV. “But that did not last, and two or three minutes, and then the whole area was silent.”

By Monday morning, Fire Chief Michael Carlsten said “no known individuals are trapped.”

The city then issued a statement saying that the owner had been served with a demolition order and the process would begin Tuesday morning.

The discovery of another survivor Monday evening, rescued by ladder truck from a fourth-floor window, prompted the city to reevaluate, they said.

“We had no indications from any of the responders that we had, any of the canines, any of the tools at the time” that there was anyone else left alive in the building, Morris said.

The building remains unstable, shifting, and too dangerous for people to search through the rubble pile until it is carefully brought down, they said.

It wasn’t clear what immediately caused the collapse, which left a gaping hole in the center of what was once the Davenport Hotel, a building listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Built in 1907, the brick over steel and concrete structure had been renovated into a mixed-use building with residential and commercial spaces.

Work was being done on the building’s exterior at the time of the collapse, said Rich Oswald, the city’s director of development and neighborhood services. Reports of falling bricks were part of that work, and the building’s owner had a permit for the project, Oswald said.

The fire marshal said Tuesday that the owner had also hired a structural engineer who determined that the building was safe enough to remain occupied during the repairs.

Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation activating the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program and the Disaster Case Management Program for the residents left homeless. The property owner was served Monday with a demolition order, and residents were prevented from going back inside to remove their belongings, due to the building’s unstable condition.

Authorities confirmed that multiple residents had complained of unmet maintenance problems. Quad-City Times reported nearly 20 permits were filed in 2022, mainly for plumbing or electrical issues, according to the county assessor’s office.

The collapse didn’t surprise Schlaan Murray, a former resident, who told The Associated Press that his one-year stay there was “a nightmare.”

Murray, 46, moved into his apartment in February 2022 and almost immediately began having issues — the heat and air conditioner didn’t work, and there were plumbing problems in the bathroom. Multiple calls to the management company rarely got a response, and when a maintenance person did stop by, they never completely fixed the problems, he said.

“They would come in and put some caulk on it,” he said. “But it needed more than that. They didn’t fix stuff, they just patched it up.”

He questions how the building passed inspections.

“It was horrible,” Murray said, adding that he felt the conditions were so bad that he didn’t want to bring his children to his apartment.

Murray said he moved out a month before his lease was up in March, and still hasn’t received his security deposit. Despite deplorable conditions, many residents were like him, he said, struggling to come up with the first and last month’s rent, plus security deposit, required to move elsewhere.

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