14th Survivor Pulled From Collapsed Building's Rubble - FOX 13 News

14th Survivor Pulled From Collapsed Building's Rubble

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Courtesy: Bill Lind Courtesy: Bill Lind
Google Street View image of collapse scene (from August 2009). Google Street View image of collapse scene (from August 2009).

Officials say a 14th injured person has survived the Wednesday-morning building demolition collapse that killed six others in Center City Philadelphia.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Coyne said early Thursday that the woman was pulled from the debris more than 12 hours after the four-story building came tumbling down onto a Salvation Army Thrift Shop next door at the corner of 22nd and Market streets.

Myra Plekam, 61, was reported to be awake and talking to rescuers before being placed in an ambulance and taken from the scene. She is listed in critical condition this morning at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Fire crews continued their search and recovery operation through the night, although there appears to be little activity on the pile this morning.

Mayor Michael Nutter announced during a late-night news conference that the death toll had reached six, including one man and five women.

The first fatality was reported to be a 35-year-old white female. The victims' identities have not been released.

Fire Commissioner Ayers said at 11 p.m. that about 40 percent of the site was still being searched, and the operation remained very dangerous for his crews.

"It's dangerous environment for our members, our firefighters, our paramedics -- we're going to take our time," Ayers said.

The mayor reiterated that they don't know exactly how many people were in the store, so they cannot say who, if anyone, is still unaccounted for.

The four-story building that was being demolished crashed down onto the one-story Salvation Army store at the southeast corner of 22nd and Market shortly before 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

The taller building's roof, facade and most of its two side walls fell onto the thrift store, literally flattening portions of it. Debris also spilled onto 22nd Street, as well as some vehicles parked nearby.

FOX 29's Claudia Gomez reported from the scene that, according to witnesses, a backhoe hit one of the taller building's walls, and the collapse happened immediately after. The witness said it looked intentional, like construction crews were trying to bring the wall down.

An eyewitness who saw the collapse, and later helped victims out of the rubble, said he heard a "big boom" and then the "ground started shaking."

Emergency crews responded within minutes, and firefighters were initially split into two groups. One group was focusing on the back of the collapsed building digging, while the other group was near the thrift shop.

It was a "hands-only" operation with no heavy equipment for about the first hour, FOX 29's Dave Schratwieser reported. It was firefighters with buckets moving bricks. Several search dogs were at the scene.

After about an hour, a backhoe was brought in to help remove debris from the street and make more room for rescuers.

Ayers said during the afternoon that rescuers are using a grid system to search with dogs, seismic tools and sounding equipment to keep up the search.

"It's tedious, it's a long operation, and we do it very -- in a safe process, and it's all technical. Our team is ready for the challenge," Ayers said.

One 66-year-old woman was pulled out earlier Wednesday, Ayers said, after rescuers could hear her voice. They gave her water, and medics tended to her as she was helped out.

Most of the injured were reported to be in stable condition, including the five taken Wednesday to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where doctors held a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Hospital sources say one man even walked in on his own, saying he was a crane operator at the demolition site.

According to a spokeswoman, "Most of the injuries we're seeing are relatively minor-- abrasions, contusions, and bruises."

Two HUP patients were released by evening, while the other three were being held overnight for observation. Plekam later joined them at the hospital.

Philadelphia police tweeted to the public early on, "We're asking the public to stay out of the area to allow the rescue workers access."

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who was at the scene since from the morning on, also urged the public to stay out of the perimeter that has been reduced to an area from 20th Street to the Schuylkill River and from the Ben Franklin Parkway to Chestnut Street.

"The search and rescue will continue, as Fire Commissioner Ayers said, until we literally get to the basement and have uncovered everything that we can possibly uncover," Nutter said.

The mayor also praised the work of rescuers, who he says are often among the first called to other jurisdictions to perform search and rescue operations.

"In this particular instance, they are doing a spectacular job out here. And they are diligent, they are focused, they are determined and ... if there is anyone else in that structure, ... under that rubble, our folks will find them," Nutter said.

Senator Bob Casey also stopped by the collapse scene around 6 p.m. to give a word.

"First of all, we express condolence for the loss of life here and also I know there's still much work to be done at the scene, and I know we already have good working cooperation between the city and the federal government. That will continue throughout the initial stages of this and certainly throughout the next days and weeks."

In addition to the city fire marshal's office, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is at the scene investigating the collapse and the building's history.

The city's Department of Licenses and Inspections will also do its own investigation.

L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams said the owner, STB Investments, has been notified.

The owner, Richard Basciano, has quite a history. He's actually known as the "porn king." And the contractor, Griffin Campbell, has a criminal record that includes false reports, theft, fraud and criminal conspiracy, according to court documents obtained by FOX 29.

Schratwieser reported that blood samples have been taken from the operator of the backhoe that apparently struck the building being demolished -- standard operating procedure for a police investigation of this nature, he said.

Stay with FOX 29 News and MyFOXPhilly.com for more on this breaking news story.

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