PHILADELPHIA — A building that was being torn down collapsed with a thunderous boom Wednesday, raining bricks on a neighboring thrift store, killing six people and injuring at least 13 others in an accident that witnesses said was bound to happen.
Early reports from Mayor Michael Nutter had been that one woman had died in the Wednesday morning accident, but rescuers using buckets and their bare hands to move bricks and rubble kept working through the evening. Body bags were removed from the collapse site at night, and authorities then turned off the floodlights that had lit it. Nutter held a late-night news conference to update people on what happened.
One woman was pulled from the rubble of the Salvation Army thrift store two hours after the 10:45 a.m. collapse when rescuers heard her voice, city fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said. Rescuers had been prepared to dig through the rubble all night because they didn't know how many people were in the thrift store when the building collapsed on it.
Survivors were taken to hospitals with mostly minor injuries, and some had been treated and released by evening.
Officials from the Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration were at the scene.
The collapse involved an empty building that once housed a first-floor sandwich shop and apartments above. The thrift shop was on one side. The other side was an adult bookstore and theater that had been taken down within the last few months.
Several witnesses said they had been casting a wary eye on the demolition site and questioned how the workers were tackling the job. That raised questions about how closely the highly visible spot on Market Street, one of Philadelphia's signature boulevards, was being monitored.
Roofer Patrick Glynn said he had been watching workers take down the doomed building over the past few weeks, and he said he suspected a collapse was inevitable because of the methods the workers were using.
"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."
Glynn and Anthony Soli were working on a roof atop a nearby building when they heard what sounded like two loud bangs or explosions. They immediately ran down the scaffolding and helped pull out two women and a man.
Steve Cramer, who has been working as a window washer across the street for several days, said the demolition crew left 30 feet of a dividing wall up with no braces and it compromised the integrity of the building
"We've been calling it for the past week—it's going to fall, it's going to fall," his co-worker Dan Gillis said.
There were no existing violations on the building and the demolition company had proper permits for the work they were doing, according to Carlton Williams, of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections.
The city issued a demolition permit for the four-story structure on Feb. 1. City officials said the property owner was STB Investments Corp.; messages left at the company's New York offices and a local agent's number after business hours Wednesday were not immediately returned. Officials said the contractor was Griffin Campbell Construction in Philadelphia; a message left at a number provided for the firm was not immediately returned.