DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Five people remain unaccounted for, including two people whose remains may be in a pile of rubble at the site of a partially collapsed apartment building, officials of the city of Davenport, Iowa, said Tuesday.
Mayor Mike Matson confirmed the numbers at a news conference following criticism that the city was moving too quickly toward demolishing the building before making sure that no one is still inside. Protests erupted after a woman was rescued Monday night, hours after the city ordered the demolition to begin as early as Tuesday.
A family member of one of the missing people also spoke, pleading with people to understand that authorities want to bring the remains of the six-story building down in a controlled way without dumping more material onto the rubble pile.
The building is “unstable and continues to worsen as time progresses,” Fire Marshal James Morris said. “It’s the opinion of the structural engineer that any additional search operations in the area of that pile of debris should be avoided due to potential collapse. We are currently evaluating the risk assessment of where we can go back into that building to do this other search.”
“We’re very sympathetic to the possibility that there’s two people” still left inside, Morris said as he fought back tears.
Protesters carried signs Tuesday morning near the building site, saying “Find Them First” and “Who is in the Rubble?” Some used a megaphone to shout out names of building residents.
City officials said rescue crews escorted 12 people from the building shortly after a middle section collapsed at about 5 p.m. Sunday, and rescued several others, including one person who was taken to safety overnight Sunday.
By Monday morning, Fire Chief Michael Carlsten told reporters: “No known individuals are trapped in that facility.” Authorities said they would soon shift from a rescue operation to a recovery operation.
The city then issued a statement saying that the owner had been served with an order for demolition that was expected to begin Tuesday morning. That prompted many people to turn to Facebook, naming loved ones who were unaccounted for, and expressing concern that the building was being demolished too quickly.
On Tuesday morning, the city issued a new statement, saying it has been “continually evaluating the timing of the demolition.” The statement said 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. The building remains structurally insecure and in imminent danger of collapse.”
The woman was rescued at about 8 p.m. Monday after calling her family for help, according to multiple news reports. A bystander’s video showed someone waving from a fourth-floor window to a fire department ladder truck below. A city statement late Monday said an injured woman had been extricated, but it wasn’t immediately clear if this was the same person referred to in news reports. Authorities did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
When firefighters initially arrived Sunday, they immediately took action, saving lives at great risk to their personal safety, city officials said.
“There was a lot of screams, a lot of cries, a lot of people saying ‘Help!’ when the building came down,” Tadd Mashovec, a resident of the building, told KCCI-TV. “But that did not last, and two or three minutes, and then the whole area was silent.”
Carlsten said the back of the complex had separated from the rest of the building, and authorities found a gas leak.
It wasn’t clear what immediately caused the collapse, which left a gaping hole in the center of what was once the Davenport Hotel, a building listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Built in 1907, the brick over steel and concrete structure had been renovated into a mixed-use building with residential and commercial spaces.
Work was being done on the building’s exterior at the time of the collapse, said Rich Oswald, the city’s director of development and neighborhood services. Reports of falling bricks were part of that work, and the building’s owner had a permit for the project, Oswald said.
Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for Scott County, activating the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program and the Disaster Case Management Program for the residents left homeless. The property owner was served Monday with a demolition order, and residents were prevented from going back inside to remove their belongings, due to the building’s unstable condition.
Authorities confirmed that multiple residents had complained of unmet maintenance problems. Quad-City Times reported nearly 20 permits were filed in 2022, mainly for plumbing or electrical issues, according to the county assessor’s office.
The collapse didn’t surprise Schlaan Murray, a former resident, who told The Associated Press that his one-year stay there was “a nightmare.”
Murray, 46, moved into his apartment in February 2022 and almost immediately began having issues — the heat and air conditioner didn’t work, and there were plumbing problems in the bathroom. Multiple calls to the management company rarely got a response, and when a maintenance person did stop by, they never completely fixed the problems, he said.
“They would come in and put some caulk on it,” he said. “But it needed more than that. They didn’t fix stuff, they just patched it up.”
He questions how the building passed inspections.
“It was horrible,” Murray said, adding that he felt the conditions were so bad that he didn’t want to bring his children to his apartment.
Murray said he moved out a month before his lease was up in March, and still hasn’t received his security deposit. Despite deplorable conditions, many residents were like him, he said, struggling to come up with the first and last month’s rent, plus security deposit, required to move elsewhere.