At least 8 hurt in Chicago building collapse; "My bed shook almost like an earthquake"

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CHICAGO (CBS) — At least eight people were injured in an apartment building explosion Tuesday morning in the South Austin neighborhood.

A Chicago Fire Department spokesperson confirmed there was an explosion around 9 a.m. in a four-story apartment building at 5601 W. West End Ave.

A total of 10 ambulances were sent to the scene, and at least eight people have been transported to hospitals. Two victims, a male and a female, were taken to Loyola University Medical Center. Three victims, two males and a female, were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital. One female was taken to West Suburban Medical Center. Two males were taken to Stroger Hospital. Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt said three victims were in serious to critical condition, with the most seriously injured patient suffering “very traumatic burn injuries,” and being treated at the burn unit at Loyola.

Debris was sent across the street and damaged cars parked outside. (CBS) 

Deputy Fire Commissioner Marc Ferman said one of the people who was injured was in a building across the street at the time.

CBS 2’s Steven Graves spoke to the mother of a victim who was inside the building and at first, she didn’t know about the incident until his aunt called her with details. She says her son is OK.


Two victims to leave hospital after building collapse


Anthonella Wims, who was released from Mount Sinai Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, said she was waiting at a bus stop across the street from the building when the explosion happened.

“So everything that blew up, it came to me first,” she said. “Glass, just everything. Everything on the top building just blew.”

Wims said, at first, she thought it was a terrorist attack.

“It just blew up out of nowhere. Everybody’s having a regular, normal morning, and it just blew up,” she said.


Victim of Austin building collapse speaks


She said she saw another man get blown across the street after walking up to the door of the building just as the explosion happened.

Wims said she didn’t smell any gas before the explosion. She said she still has a bad headache and body aches, and cuts and scrapes from flying glass and debris. She also has a gash on her head.

The Fire Department had to bring in crews to shore up the building during a search of the building. A Fire Department spokesman said a final search of the building was completed, and everyone has gotten out of the building.

Chicago Fire Department video posted on Twitter shows a large amount of debris on the street outside the building. Chopper 2 also spotted debris on the roof of a building across the street.

One neighbor, Shannon Nelson, said she was lying in bed when she heard the explosion.

“My bed shook almost like an earthquake,” Nelson said.

CBS 2’s Steven Graves spoke to Donell Adams who was just released from the hospital. He said he was approaching the front door when a blast pushed him back, he estimates, about eight feet.


‘I can’t believe it’s real’


CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl reported the debris pattern from the explosion has all the patterns of a natural gas explosion, and Nelson said smelled natural gas in the air after the explosion.

However, a Peoples Gas spokesperson said the cause of the explosion remains unknown, and “there is no reason at this point to believe the cause is related to gas or any of our equipment.”

Ferman said the official cause of the explosion remains under investigation. Peoples Gas has shut off natural gas service to the building.

One car was crushed by falling bricks. (CBS) 

According to the Fire Department, both the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Chicago Police Department Bomb Unit were on the scene to assist with the response and investigation.

The explosion happened on the top floor of the building on the eastern side of the structure, sending a large amount of bricks and other debris into the street, damaging at least three cars parked along the curb.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey spoke with the building owner, who says he spoke with an investigator who told him it may not be a gas explosion.


Building owner: May not have been a gas explosion


The roof of at least one unit in the building collapsed as a result of the explosion, and several windows in the building also were blown out.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her thoughts are with the people who were injured and displaced by the explosion.

“We must also thank the brave men and women of the Chicago Fire Department who are working to abate the dangerous conditions,” she said.

A total of 135 firefighters and paramedics responded to the scene.

The Chicago Department of Buildings also has responded to the scene.

The roof of the four-story building collapsed. (CBS) 

Building inspection records show the building has failed its last 12 inspections since 2010, including citations in January 2017 and February 2018 for “failing to repair or replace defective or out of service smoke detectors and operate continuously.”

The building’s owner told CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey that one of the lead investigators has told him the explosion is not gas-related. He said he’s owned the building for 20 years, and 31 of the 35 apartments were occupied at the time of the blast.

The building owner also acknowledged a past of building code violations, but said none of the issues were major structural problems with the building. He said the most recent problem was an issue with the stairway railings in the building. He said an inspector checked all the building’s smoke detectors one week ago, and made sure any bad batteries were replaced.

In a statement, building owner Roman Viere said, “This is a devastating event and we are heartbroken for all of our residents.”

“Our first concern is the health, well-being and safety of our residents. We are doing everything we can to cooperate with emergency services, and we are ready to do whatever we can to support our residents,” Viere added.

Ferman said it’s unclear exactly how many people have been left homeless. CBS 2’s Marybel Gozalez spoke to a Red Cross representative about how the organization is helping people displaced by the incident.


Red Cross assisting victims of Austin building implosion


Source: ChicagoCBS