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Davenport officials say 5 unaccounted for after building collapse, 2 likely still in apartment building

5 unaccounted for after Iowa building collapse
5 unaccounted for after Iowa building collapse 03:03

Officials in Davenport, Iowa, said Tuesday that five people remain unaccounted for, including two who were likely still in the wreckage of a partially collapsed apartment building.

Mayor Mike Matson confirmed the numbers at a news conference where a family member of one of those missing people also spoke. The mayor noted that the site "could be a place of rest for some of the unaccounted."

The six-story apartment building partially collapsed Sunday. As of Tuesday morning, nine people had been rescued. Officials are currently working to determine whether continuing to search the unstable remains of the building is possible, and how to do it if they can. 

"We're very sympathetic to the possibility that there's two people" still left inside, Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Jim Morris said as he fought back tears.

Morris said at the news conference that he had spoken earlier with technical rescue teams "regarding the viability of an additional search" of the building, to look for other occupants and pets. The search teams were still on site, but Morris said the structure "is unstable and it continues to worsen as time progresses."

"The building is in imminent danger of collapse," said Larry Sandhaas, a structural engineer at the firm Shive-Hattery who was commissioned by the city to evaluate the site of the collapse and provide engineering advice as recovery efforts got underway. He said that the "debris pile itself is helping hold up the building."

Six-Story Apartment Building Partially Collapses In Davenport, Iowa
People view a six-story apartment building after it collapsed in Davenport, Iowa. Eight people were rescued from the debris following the collapse on May 28, 2023. / Getty Images

Built over 100 years ago from brick and steel, the apartment building was constructed "in a way that was state-of-the-art at the time," Sandhaas said.

"But it is not a new building," he continued. "The brick on the outside holds the steel frame inside up, and at the same time the steel of the building holds the brick up. So, when you lose the brick, you lose the stability of the building."

Sandhaas emphasized that any further search and recovery missions should be carried out carefully, and with the understanding that the remaining structure will not hold.

"We need to be careful because this building is going to collapse," he said.

At least one of the people who was found and ultimately rescued from the wreck since the apartment collapsed Sunday was in a particularly precarious spot. Calling the structural circumstances "unbelievably dangerous," the mayor told reporters
that during the recovery effort medical personnel had performed trauma surgery inside of the building.

"Surgeons from this community were in the building exercising trauma surgery, in the building, saving lives," he said. The mayor added that emergency responders want to go back in despite the risks.

"So, for me and our respective team, understanding that the effort of the first responders and other medical professionals to go and do everything they can, and the risk analysis for me and our respective leadership ... as you saw, people from the across the state coming to advise us on the structural capability of that. Can I allow that?" he said. "I don't know. I still am struggling with that, right? But that's what we're doing."

Fire crews responded to the scene of the collapse just before 5 p.m. local time on Sunday, according to Davenport Fire Chief Mike Carlsten, and rescue operations began within the hour. 

Fire officials reported seven rescues while helping more than a dozen other people out of the building, he said. Over the next 12 hours, more than 150 professionals responded to the scene. During a second search, they found an eighth person inside the structure who was rescued. 

Another woman was rescued Monday after poking her head out of a fourth-floor window. Lisa Brooks, 52, had hidden beneath a couch when part of the building crumbled, and a suspected natural gas leak may have caused her to fall unconscious, one of her relatives said. Brooks had not been detected by the search teams that surveyed the structure after the collapse. 

Carlsten told reporters that, based on the information collected during the "multiple" searches already carried out, no confirmed signs of life were observed in the building.

The city is grappling with a demolition order issued with intent to protect the surrounding area, as well as protests from some people in the community who fear others could still be alive and trapped inside.

Amy Anderson, a relative of one of the tenants who is still missing, Ryan Hitchcock, pleaded with the community at Tuesday's news conference to "let the city do their job" and go through with the demolition.

"It's a no-win situation," Anderson said, acknowledging the possibility that Hitchcock could be in the wreckage. 

"We don't want to see anyone else injured trying to remove the rubble," she continued. "We know he's with the lord. We need to pull together." 

On Tuesday morning, Davenport Chief Strategy Officer for Administration Sarah Ott issued a statement saying demolition "is a multi-phase process that includes permitting and staging of equipment that will begin today. The timing of the physical demolition of the property is still be evaluated."

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