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Toys "R" Us Store's Roof Caves In

Aired February 22, 2003 - 12:47   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Another story we're following for you right now as well comes out of Maryland. This is a breaking story out of Prince George's County, this just outside of the Washington, D.C. area. Reportedly, 40 percent of a roof of a Toys "R" Us store has collapsed and apparently has trapped people inside.
On the telephone with us now is the spokesperson for the Prince George's County Fire Department, Mark Brady. Mark, what can you tell us about how this happened?

MARK BRADY, SPOKESMAN, PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY FIRE DEPT.: Well, it was about 11:45 this morning. We were right in the middle of a torrential downpour of rain, which included lightning and thunder. Combine that with the heavy rain and the heavy snow we had last weekend, has put a tremendous amount of stress on this flat roof building. This is a Toys "R" Us store, located at 8500 Annapolis Road in Lanham. It's just about a mile inside of the Capital Beltway.

Apparently at about 11:45, the structure failed. All employees have been accounted for, and three were transported to a local area hospital, suffering from non-life-threatening injuries. We are attempting to search the interior of the building, which is extremely unstable. We have called in the assistance of the District of Columbia collapse team, as well as the Prince George's County's Fire Department's collapse team, to search the rubble. There is a strong possibility that we have customers that were shopping in the store at the time of the collapse that were not able to escape. We've not been able to confirm that. As you know, this is a Saturday morning, early afternoon at Toys "R" Us store. It was very busy at the time this collapse occurred, and it was almost impossible to count the exact number of customers in the store, so there is a strong possibility, and we are going on the assumption that we are dealing with trapped victims.

WHITFIELD: And Mark, can you give us a little bit more detail as to why you are going on that assumption, that perhaps all people have not been evacuated from that building?

BRADY: I'm sorry, you'll have to repeat that one question. I hope you understand, there is a lot of activity going on, I have a hard time hearing.

WHITFIELD: Sure, no problem, Mark. Just wondering, what are you basing upon the fact that there likely to still be people in that what was once a crowded building? BRADY: Firefighters have done a preliminary search of the building, but because of its stability, we had to pull them out. We're calling in specialized equipment with thermal imaging, which can detect body heat underneath that rubble, as well as some urban search and rescue dogs, which will assist us in locating any trapped victims. We have paramedics standing by in case we do find anybody, and they can be quickly treated.

WHITFIELD: Mark, was there any warning, are you hearing anything from the people who were inside that building, any warning that perhaps the integrity of that rooftop was being compromised by that melting snow? The area has had about two feet of snow in just this past week. Was there any notice that folks may have had in that building that there was a problem?

BRADY: According to employees that were inside the store, the only notice they had was just seconds prior to the collapse, a sound similar, they said, to a train passing by, and the next thing they know that the roof had collapsed. And we are looking at about a 90 percent collapse of this (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This is a large warehouse- style building, it's a stand-alone, it is not part of any type of mall of strip shopping center. The only sections of the roof that are not affected is the areas directly at the entrance and above the cash registers. Everything from there back has collapsed. It appears everything collapsed towards the middle of the store.

WHITFIELD: And so, Mark, can you give us kind of an estimation on a head count of how many people have been evacuated from that building, to give us a better sense of how crowded that building was?

BRADY: Well, employee-wise, they had about 15 employees, of which, again, we transported three to local area hospital. Again, it's -- we've not been able to get a good count on the exact number of customers, and as I'm sure you can appreciate, it's very difficult to do the count of number of customers in this large store at any one time.

WHITFIELD: Now, of those three employees that were transported, what kind of injuries have they sustained, on the surface (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BRADY: Minor cuts, bruises, contusions, things of that nature.

WHITFIELD: And, Mark, since the melting snow is obviously a problem in that whole District area, can you give us a sense as to what you're noticing in other buildings that may have very similar structures, that flat rooftops that you've described, that may be in jeopardy as well?

BRADY: Well, this is certainly not the first such building we see in Prince George's County or the areas that had the roof collapse. We're working several right now. Obviously the biggest thing is safety. We don't want home owners or business owners to get up on the roof and try to get it off themselves. We had hoped that the warmer temperatures of the past couple of days have taken care of that through the natural melting of the snow. However, with this heavy rain and the remaining snow, it just proved too much weight for this building, so the only thing we can do is to recommend to home owners and business owners to contact a roofing specialist that can get out there and they have special pools (ph) to get the snow off the roof and something that they can use to disperse their weight.

WHITFIELD: All right, Mark Brady, we know you have your hands full. We really appreciate you taking the time to give us a sense as to what's going on there in Prince George's County. Thank you.

BRADY: OK. Thank you.


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