PHILADELPHIA — A four-story building being demolished on the edge of downtown collapsed with a thunderous boom Wednesday, raining bricks down on a thrift store, injuring 12 people and trapping two others, the fire commissioner said.
Rescue crews were trying to extricate the two people who were trapped inside the adjacent shop, which was severely damaged by falling debris, city Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said. The dozen people who were injured were taken to hospitals with minor injuries, he said.
The collapse involved a building that once housed a first-floor sandwich shop and apartments above. Much of the debris from the building landed on a Salvation Army thrift store next door. The two are adjacent to an adult bookstore and theater that had been taken down earlier.
Rescuers used buckets and their bare hands to move bricks and rubble to search for survivors.
Witnesses said they heard a loud rumbling sound immediately before the collapse. More than 100 rescuers and several police dogs searched through the rubble.
"I was standing there looking out my window, watching the men at work on the building, and the next thing I know I heard something go kaboom," said Veronica Haynes, who was on the fifth floor of an apartment building across the street. "Then you saw the whole side of the wall fall down ... onto the other building."
Patrick Glynn and Anthony Soli were working on a roof atop a nearby building when they heard what sounded like two loud bangs or explosions. They immediately ran down the scaffolding and helped pull out two women and a man.
Glynn said he had been watching workers take down the doomed building over the past few weeks, and said he suspected a collapse was inevitable because of the methods the workers were using to tear it down.
"For weeks they've been standing on the edge, knocking bricks off," he said. "You could just see it was ready to go at any time. I knew it was going to happen."
Steve Cramer, who has been working as a window washer across the street for several days, said the demolition crew left 30 feet of a dividing wall up with no braces and it compromised the integrity of the building
"We've been calling it for the past week — it's going to fall, it's going to fall," his co-worker Dan Gillis said.
Carlton Williams of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections said there were no existing violations on the building and the demolition company had proper permits for the work they were doing.
The city issued a demolition permit for the four-story structure on Feb. 1. Online records list the contractor as Plato Marinakos Jr., an architect. He told The Associated Press that Campbell Construction was handling the demolition. A message was left at a listing for Campbell Construction in Philadelphia.
Bernie DiTomo was driving past Salvation Army building in his white pickup truck, on his way to an appointment, when the collapse happened.
"The next thing you know, I heard a rumble, and a building and a sign fell on my truck," he said.
He said he lay down in the seat of his cab. It was probably over in about 30 seconds, he said. There was a lot of dirt and dust that he breathed in, but he was able to open the door and get out, unhurt. His truck remained nearby, partially covered in debris, as DiTomo watched recovery efforts from across the street.
High school student Jordan McLaughlin said he saw several people on the ground after the collapse being given oxygen by rescuers.
"It was hard to breathe, there was a lot of dust everywhere," he said.
The accident happened at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday on the western edge of downtown, between the city's business district and its main train station.
Maj. John Cranford of The Salvation Army in Philadelphia said officials were coordinating with the police and fire department and sent their own disaster response team to the site to serve survivors and first responders.
"Our No. 1 concern is for the safety of our customers and the employees who were involved," he said. "We ask for the public to pray for those involved."
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam contributed to this report.