DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa task force has completed its search for survivors at the site of a partially collapsed Davenport apartment building and is moving ahead to shore up the structure so recovery efforts can begin, authorities said Friday.
Three people remain missing and are feared dead after the six-story apartment building crumbled on Sunday. Authorities said Friday that the building has remained dangerous, and was shifting in the first 24 to 36 hours — posing a danger to rescuers who were trying to find people.
“We do what the building tells us to do,” Rick Halleran, the task force’s Cedar Rapids division chief, said of the delay in searching the building.
The state task force was mobilized and on-site to first search for survivors and then secure the structure, Halleran said. He said the search for survivors was completed Thursday evening after electrical equipment connected to the building was controlled.
Recovery efforts have been difficult because officials have said the remains of the building have continued to shift since part of the structure sheared off on Sunday, leaving an unstable building that eventually will collapse on its own. Adding to the challenge is a giant pile of brick and steel at the base of the building that is helping to hold up the structure but also may contain the remains of people killed in the collapse.
Mayor Mike Matson has said the debris pile “could be a place of rest for some of the unaccounted” and insisted the city would be sensitive about those remains, comparing work at the site to an archeological dig.
Work to bring down the building comes amid questions about why neither the owner nor city officials warned residents even after a structural engineer’s report issued last week indicated a wall of the century-old apartment building was at imminent risk of crumbling.
The revelation was the latest flashpoint following the partial collapse that has left some residents upset with city leaders over what they see as an inept response.
“Do I have regrets about this tragedy and about people potentially losing their lives? Hell yeah. Do I think about this every moment? Hell yeah.” Matson said Thursday. “I have regrets about a lot of things. Believe me, we’re going to look at that.”
City officials said Thursday that they did not order an evacuation because they relied on the engineer’s assurances that the building remained safe.
The state’s search and rescue team, search dogs, and cameras were used Thursday to continue combing the building for missing people.
The building collapsed shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday. Rescue crews pulled seven people from the building in their initial response and escorted out 12 others who could walk on their own. Later, two more people were rescued, including a woman who was removed from the fourth-floor hours after authorities said they were going to begin setting up for demolition.
Earlier this week, authorities said five people were missing. But Davenport Police Chief Jeff Bladel said during a media briefing Thursday morning that two of them have since been accounted for and are safe.
City officials named those unaccounted for as Brandon Colvin, Ryan Hitchcock and Daniel Prien. The city said all three “have high probability of being home at the time of the collapse, and their apartments were located in the collapse zone.”
Bladel said transient people also often enter the building but there was no indication anyone else was inside and missing.
People living in the building will be eligible for $6,000 payments from the city and those meeting certain income requirements could get state payments of $5,000. Businesses near the collapsed building will also be eligible to receive payments.
City Administrator Corri Spiegel said the building likely is “filled with asbestos” given its age, and the city will develop a plan to ensure workers and people in the area are protected when the remaining structure is demolished.
The city on Wednesday night released documents, including structural engineering reports, that show city officials and the building’s owner were warned that the parts of the building were unstable.
A report dated May 24, just four days before the collapse, suggested patches in the west side of the building’s brick façade “appear ready to fall imminently” and could be a safety hazard to cars or passersby.
The report also detailed that window openings, some filled and some unfilled, were insecure. In one case, the openings were “bulging outward” and looked “poised to fall.” Inside the first floor, unsupported window openings help “explain why the façade is currently about to topple outward.”
Despite the warnings, city officials did not order that the estimated 50 tenants leave.
Rich Oswald, the city’s director of development and neighborhood services, said officials relied on assurances from the structural engineer hired by the building owner. The engineer said the building wasn’t in imminent danger of collapsing.
Andrew Wold, the building’s owner, released a statement dated Tuesday saying “our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants” and that his company, Davenport Hotel L.L.C., is working with agencies to help them.
County records show Davenport Hotel L.L.C. acquired the building in a 2021 deal worth $4.2 million.
Tenants had complained to the city in recent years about a host of other problems they say were ignored by property managers, including no heat or hot water for weeks or even months at a time, as well as mold and water that leaked through ceilings and toilets. City officials gave orders to vacate some individual apartments and tried to address other complaints, but a broader evacuation was never ordered, records show.
City officials ordered repairs after they found seven fire code violations on Feb. 6. They were told three weeks later by building maintenance officials that “none of the work was completed,” records show.
Assistant City Attorney Brian Heyer said he is unaware whether the city had considered earlier civil enforcement action to protect residents. Only after the collapse did the city file a civil infraction seeking a $300 fine against Wold for failing to maintain the structure in a safe manner. He will be required to pay for the cost of demolition, Heyer said.
Emails and calls to an attorney believed to be representing Wold have not been returned.
Foley reported from Iowa City. Associated Press reporter Summer Ballentine contributed from Jefferson City, Missouri.