July 2017 – Woman rescued from city building

A woman who was trapped for more than 9 hours inside a partially collapsed downtown Washington apartment building was pulled to safety Wednesday evening.

Washington County public safety director Jeff Yates wouldn’t disclose the extent of her injuries other than to describe her as “lucid” and “speaking clearly.” He wasn’t immediately sure where she was taken, but said it was probably Washington Hospital.

A rear section of the roof and upper floor of the building at 15 N. Main St., also called the “Montgomery Building,” came down just before 9 a.m.

Crews worked to free the woman until about 2 p.m., when they evacuated moments before bricks and other debris began to fall.

Matthew Angelone identified the rescued woman as his sister, 38-year-old Megan Angelone. Officials said they were unable to confirm her identity.

Matthew Angelone said his sister had moved into the apartment building earlier this month.

Angelone was pinned under a refrigerator and two floors of material as part of an effort that ultimately involved more than 100 personnel by the time she was finally freed about 6:25 p.m.

City officials said they plan to demolish the collapsing building as soon as possible.

Yates said the building can’t be torn down until owners of the two neighboring buildings are contacted because demolition might affect their property.

Councilman Ken Westcott said the city is working with a building engineer to bring down the free-standing building without damaging the two adjacent structures.

“We want to do this as quickly as possible, but as safely as possible,” he said. “We’re looking at probably a few weeks.”

He said a worker from the city streets department will stay there to monitor the building.

While she was trapped, Angelone was able to talk to rescuers, who could reach her arms and had inserted an intravenous line in order to keep her hydrated.

Chief Alan Hausman of Pittsburgh-based Pennsylvania Strike Team One said most of the weight on top of the woman was on her pelvic area.

Crews originally planned to secure the building from the ground floor in order to get to Angelone. Yates said the back wall of the structure was a concern because it was unstable.

Washington Councilman Joe Manning said crews were trying to stabilize the building, starting in the basement, but with the number of rescue workers in the building, it was “groaning” and all unnecessary personnel had to be removed.

The plan was changed to try to get to the woman through a brick wall of the adjacent building at 3 N. Main St. Crews re-entered the collapsing building by 3:30 p.m. to continue rescue efforts, using a crane and baskets.

Yates said rescuers used two hydraulic tools, three airbags and various hand tools to free her.

The area around the building, from Beau to Chestnut streets, remained closed as crews from Allegheny County Urban Search and Rescue, state Emergency Management Agency, Washington Regional CERT team and numerous area fire departments attempted to secure the building.

Utilities were cut to the building, and power was cut to the entire block of North Main.

A total of eight people were in the building at the time it collapsed. Five people were able to get out on their own, and two more were extricated fairly quickly.

Yates didn’t expect anyone to re-enter the building to check for others inside or retrieve belongings because of its condition.

“Based on what everybody said, there’s nobody else in there,” he said.

Two cranes – one on North Main and one in the parking lot behind the Montgomery building – were still in place when night fell.

Westcott said North Main would remain closed between Beau and Chestnut streets through the night and probably until the weekend.

Although there was some initial confusion about how many people were trapped, all residents were accounted for by noon. One man was suspected to have a broken arm and another had a leg injury. Both were taken by ambulance to Washington Hospital.

Edward Cook, who’s been a tenant since 2010, said his friend pushed an air conditioner out of the window so they could escape.

“As soon as I opened the door (to get out), it was like a grenade hitting me,” Cook said.

Neighbors said they heard people yelling for help shortly after the building started to collapse.

“I came out and people were running out of the building,” said Jessica Lockett, an employee of the street-level Hair We Go barbershop. “It almost felt like an earthquake.”

Ron McIntyre, city code enforcement officer, described the building as “a nuisance property” that has had numerous citations.

The owners, Mark J. and Melissa Russo of Washington, are scheduled to appear before District Judge Robert Redlinger Tuesday over a citation filed in March, McIntyre said.

The citation for an ordinance violation, filed by McIntyre, alleges the landlord failed to replace a failing wall, which he described as “cracked, not structurally sound.” A notice was sent to the Russos Feb. 6, the citation states, after tenants complained about the wall. The citation was filed March 23. The Russos pleaded not guilty and asked for a hearing. The citation carries a $100 fine plus court costs.

Mark Russo said Wednesday he has been in compliance, and a crack in a wall was repaired. He also said there were no problems with the foundation, explaining he worked as a contractor and does not know why the structure collapsed.

“My main concern now is the safety of the residents,” he said.

An emergency order was granted by Washington County President Judge Katherine Emery Wednesday to immediately demolish the building.

“(Russo) was given time to bring the property into compliance. However, he did fail to do that and, unfortunately, we have this collapse now,” said McIntyre. “Hopefully, the residents will get out of a dangerous situation and into a safer one.”

Bradford Nickel, who lived in the apartment below the section that collapsed, said for the past several weeks, he was noticing cracks forming on the wall. He said he noticed a window starting to cave in this morning just before the building started to come down.

“We’ve been telling the landlord about cracks in the wall. You could see the foundation was starting to crumble,” Nickel said. “We kind of thought this might be coming.”

Steven Layton, who owns the barbershop with his wife, Lynda Layton, said he has seen bricks falling in the back of the building before and reported it to Russo.

Councilwoman Monda Williams, the city’s director of public safety, said it was too soon to tell whether the city would pursue criminal charges or civil action.

City solicitor Steven Toprani said he would recommend Washington officials “pursue every remedy” available to them.

“We’ll see what happens as the days unfold,” he said. “We’ll be prepared to move.”

The American Red Cross is providing assistance, including food, clothing and emergency shelter, to nine people who were displaced, according to a news release. They said there is a chance the number of people being assisted will increase later today or tomorrow.

This story was taken from the Observer Reporter Website. For additional pictures and videos, visit: https://observer-reporter.com/news/localnews/woman-rescued-from-city-building-collapse/article_fc93d231-a6d4-50e3-86b6-e340b920d5d6.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share

Staff writers Barbara S. Miller, Rick Shrum, Gideon Bradshaw, Justin Channell and Nate Doughty contributed to this report.

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