According to the Houston Texas Fire Department, the structural collapse of a residential building in West Harris County has resulted in an estimated 100 people being injured with 36 transported to local hospitals. The site of the building collapse is located on Park Mill Lane. It has been reported that some of those injured in the collapse were children with the youngest reported to be 8 years old. According to authorities, the accident could have been much worse and most of the injuries were minor to moderate with three people suffering “urgent” injuries. The most serious of the injuries were head injuries, but no lives were lost in the collapse.
In addition to the Houston Fire Department, volunteer firefighters from the West I-10 department and 15 ambulances were also on the scene. Firefighter and rescue crews set up a makeshift triage in the neighboring front yards near the home. Some of the injured were loaded onto stretchers and transported to Houston Methodist West Hospital, the Texas Children’s Hospital and Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital.
Although reports on the number of people involved have varied, according to Houston Fire Captain Ruy Lozano at least 100 people were together for a religious celebration to bless a temple when the incident occurred. Some reports put the estimated number of people in the approximately 600 square foot apartment above the garage as high as 150. These estimates are based on a letter that had been previously distributed to neighbors of the Park Mill Lane home, alerting them to the upcoming celebration.
Reports have indicated that the structural collapse of the upstairs apartment temporarily trapped some people in the garage area below. However, emergency crews were able to successfully pull those people from the rubble. Luckily, according to Lozano, most of the people on the second floor “rode the collapse down” to the bottom floor. If the estimates of up to 150 people in the single apartment are accurate, the chaos of that number of people sliding down the collapse could have resulted in more critical injuries than occurred.
The damage to the structure was not readily apparent from the outside of the building but one ABC News report states that, “one exterior wall showed signs of rippling or buckling due to the collapse.” A nearby neighbor has stated that “streams of people” came pouring out of the house and that many of them did not speak English. Although communication was likely difficult, the neighbor provided them with water and access to her telephone. Shortly after, as the neighbor describes it, “streams of ambulances” began to arrive. According to other witnesses at the scene, people were literally trying to hold up the floor beams that had fallen before help arrived.
The cause of the structural collapse in Texas has yet to be determined. There has been some speculation that the 40 mph winds and heavy rain from a thunderstorm shortly before the accident may have played a role. There is also speculation that the large number of people in the upstairs apartment may have been a weight load that the building structure could not support. When asked about this, Chief Lozano stated that there are no regulations to control the number of people in residential buildings. Although an estimated 100 people did sustain minor to moderate injuries, the collapse of the building and the subsequent drop to the bottom floor could have resulted in critical, even life threatening injuries. While the purpose of the celebration was to bless a temple, the blessing appears to be that those in the very large gathering escaped the structural collapse in Texas relatively unscathed.
By Alana Marie Burke