Screams came from inside Philadelphia Salvation Army Thrift Store, eyewitness Jordan McLaughlin, 18, told reporters as he recounted an account of the vacant building collapsing onto the thrift store Wednesday.
The incident killed one person and buried many more under the rubble.
Mayor Michael Nutter said a 35-year-old woman died and 13 others were hurt. According to the mayor, one woman was rescued after being buried under the building rubble for more than two hours.
Thirteen people were taken to area hospitals; five had been released as of Wednesday afternoon.
Mayor Nutter said he did not know how many people were inside the thrift store at the time of the collapse. “We do not know how many people were actually in the store at that time and so active search and rescue continues,” he said.
“We’re taking away the debris. We still have an area to be examined, and we are hopeful that we have actually gotten out everyone who was in the building, but at this moment, we do not know for sure.”
Dogs were brought to help in the rescue effort. According to Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayer the rescue effort will go on into Thursday. He said the process was tedious.
The four-story building which buckled was being demolished when suddenly it started swaying and fell onto the thrift store next to it. Eye witnesses told reporters they saw a crane detach a supporting beam from the front of the building at the same time a backhoe hit the back of the building.
“The building came down. It was like a big blast,” an eyewitness said. “It came down with an ominous rumble.”
“You felt it shake,” Jordan McLaughlin reporters.” “There was people inside the building, you heard them scream,” he said.
McLaughlin said he helped two people out of the building. Other bystanders, including construction workers, helped four or five others out in the moments after the collapse.
According to reporters, bystanders helped in the rescue operation by moving rocks and debris to reach people stuck in the rubble.
Some witnesses said it was bound to happen.
“I knew that was going to collapse sometime soon, and it did today,” Patrick Glynn told reporters. “For weeks they’ve been standing on the edge, knocking bricks off, pieces of, you could just see it was ready to go at any time. I knew it was going to happen. I seen it. I said it 10 times. Ask these guys. Every day, I said, ‘It’s gonna collapse, it’s gonna collapse.”
Ari Barker, another eyewitness, who was in a building across the street said he heard “a rumbling, a very unusual sound” He rushed to the window to see a plume of dust rising from the debris. Eyewitness Kate Slyman said she felt the ground rumbling and thought it was a terrorist attack.”
The cause of the collapse is under investigation. Police have described it as an “industrial accident.”
In a statement, the Salvation Army said it had dispatched its disaster response team to the site. It asked the public to pray for its employees, customers and others affected by the tragedy.
The accident happened on a busy area, near the city’s museum of medical history, the Mutter Museum. On Facebook, the museum said it will remain closed until further notice because its facilities were being used for the rescue operation.
By Perviz Walji
Sources: Chicago tribune, Voice of America