Mayor Nutter: 75% of Center City building collapse site searched, efforts continue through the day

CENTER CITY - June 6, 2013

"We are now nearly 24 hours into this tragic event," Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters from Philadelphia and around the country Thursday morning as he updated the search efforts and investigation surrounding the deadly incident.

Nutter said search efforts have been not suspended and the work is actively going on.

"75% of the site has been searched. Obviously that means 25% yet still remains, part of which is the actual structure with the thrift store sign on it," Nutter said.

A large crane has been brought in to assist the crews in finding those still missing.

"There is also a wall to the south of the building that needs to be taken down. Firefighters and search rescue folks are concerned about that particular wall," Nutter said.

He said the work will extend into the afternoon.

The mayor also gave an update to the status of road closures due to the collapse.

The perimeter has been reduced to 21st Street to 23rd Street, Market Street to Arch Street, and 22nd Street from Chestnut to Arch.

Nutter said while the building that fell was 2136 Market Street, L&I received a complaint in early May concerning the adjacent structure at 2134 Market Street.

"A few days later an L&I inspector went to the property of 2134 Market Street, found there was no violations at that time. The property 2136 [in the collapse], commonly known as the Hoagie City building, that demolition has not yet started. That building was fully intact, the sign was in place, and no work had been done yet on that particular building," Nutter said.

It remains unclear what role the demolition played into the collapse, but many are questioning how closely the Hoagie City building was being monitored.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration were at the scene. 14 people have been rescued from the collapse site, including 61-year-old Myra Plekam of Kensington.

Plekam was pulled from the wreckage around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. She was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in critical condition.

The mayor said police plan on releasing the names of the fatalities by the end of the day.

"We still have families that are trying to notify other family members," Nutter said.

Crews removed 5 bodies from the rubble on Wednesday evening, bringing the death toll to 6.

In a press conference prior to the dramatic rescue of Plekam, Nutter said city officials still do not know how many people were in the Salvation Army Thrift Store when it collapsed.

"If anyone is still in that building," said Nutter, "they will find them."

Authorities have said the first person found dead was a 35-year-old woman. Authorities have withheld her name at the request of her family.

Action News has learned that Wednesday was the woman's first day on the job at the store.

However, one name Action News has learned is that of 68-year-old Borbor Davis, who worked for the Salvation Army. Action News profiled his family earlier Wednesday after learning his family had been unable to contact him.

In Thursday morning news conference Mayor Nutter said the collapse of 2136 Market Street occurred at 10:43 a.m.

"Firefighters and first responders were on the scene at 10:45 a.m.," Nutter said.

The collapse happened when a 4-story building, which was being demolished, collapsed onto the two-story Salvation Army Thrift Store, located next door.

Dan Gillis said he saw the collapse happen, saying "I was working across the street doing windows. They've been working over there for about a week now. It was a 30 foot wall, they started pulling on a piece of steel, and I seen the whole wall just waving back and forth, and as soon as they pulled that out, there was no stopping it."

The collapse brought down part of the thrift store and what looks like converted row homes attached to the back of the building.

Bystanders immediately jumped into action, helping assist the wounded before first responders arrived.

Emergency crews worked feverishly to find victims trapped in the rubble.

"Our firefighters are actively engaged in a search and rescue operation. It is delicate, this is dangerous work," explained Mayor Michael Nutter. "We're going to continue this operation until we are certain that anyone who was in the building has been taken out of the building and is recovered."

RELATED: SEPTA detours, road closures due to Center City building collapse

According to officials, there was an active demolition on the 4-story building by a Philadelphia-based company known as Griffin Campbell Construction. There were no existing violations on the property and the contractor conducting the demolition had a license.


High school senior Jordan McLaughlin, of Chestnut Hill, was walking along the 2100 block of Market Street when he saw and heard the building collapse.

"It was like a boom. There was nothing before the collapse. You heard the backhoe hit the wall."

McLaughlin charged into the rubble to pull two injured victims to safety, disregarding his own.

He gave Action News this up-close and personal account.

"When we went into the scene, we said, 'Can you hear us? Can you hear us?' And then we got a response," he said. "I ended up helping get two people."

McLaughlin was not alone in suddenly becoming a first responder. Brian Mullens and Bill Rome were working nearby when they heard the boom and charged into action.

"We ran right around the corner. We saw a couple of people. The roofers who were working upstairs on the roof came running right behind us, and we started digging and pulling people out," said Mullens.

"We actually pulled a couple out of the basement. One of the roofers went down into the basement," said Rome. "The gentleman was very gutsy and went down and started handing people up to us. There was one woman who was trapped who we couldn't get out. She was in a pocket. We were waiting for the rescue people to come and move the stuff properly."


Five victims of the collapse were taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital with minor injuries.

As of 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, none had been admitted. Two, a man and a woman, were released. Action News was there as Nadine White emerged from the hospital with relatives.

On Tuesday, Nadine celebrated her 54th birthday. Wednesday morning, she went to work at the Salvation Army Thrift Store at 22nd and Market.

About 45 minutes later, her family members say, Nadine was working near the back of the store when the walls came tumbling down.

She was partially buried in the rubble. One of her co-workers stayed with her until rescuers could dig her out.

Nadine suffered cuts and bruises and, along with four other victims, was taken to Jefferson.

When she was released at around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, her family's main concern was getting her home safe and sound.

Jefferson officials have been tight-lipped about the five patients who were treated there. A hospital spokeswoman told Action News no extra trauma teams had to be called in to handle the victims.


Another woman pulled from the rubble was among five people treated at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).

"We can say she is stable but that's about it," said Dr. Patrick Kim of HUP.

Three other women were also brought in. All told hospital workers they were inside the Salvation Army store at the time of the collapse.

"They were saying they heard a loud noise and the ceiling began falling," said Dr. Elizabeth Datner of HUP.

The fifth person treated was a man who walked into the hospital on his own claiming to be a crane worker at the collapse site.

Doctors say none of the injuries were severe, despite the way the scene appeared. All the victims who came to HUP were alert and talking when they came in.

"Most of the injuries we're seeing are relatively minor, bruises, lacerations," said Datner.

"We can expect their physical injuries to heal up," said Kim. "Mental distress - they might be recovering from after something like this."

One person had been released as of 5:00 p.m. Wednesday. Two more were expected to be released by the end of the day.

Doctors planned to keep the woman who was pulled from the rubble and one other person in the hospital overnight for observation.

Stay with Action News and as more information becomes available.


The Associated Press contributed to this article

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