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Philadelphia Building Collapse; Interview with Witness of the Collapse

Aired June 5, 2013 - 12:00   ET




Our thanks to you, Ashleigh.

MALVEAUX: Straight to the breaking news. We are watching these pictures as you watch them here. This is breaking news. This is Philadelphia. You are seeing here, this is an apartment building that has collapsed now. Firefighters, you can see there, literally searching through the rubble right now hand by hand. They are walking through. You can see they are actually guiding people out of this particular area. We are told that they're looking for eight to 10 people who still might be trapped inside.

HOLMES: Yes. For those who know the city, this is at the corner of 22nd and Market Street. It's a very busy section of the city. This, a four-story apartment building, we're told, it's made of brick, as you can see there, reduced to rubble. You've got fire and emergency crews frantically digging through, removing it piece by piece. These live pictures are from our affiliate WPVI.

Now, the city's fire chief tells CNN's KYW, one of our other affiliates at the moment. Now, the city's fire chief is telling us that the fire department was called to the site a little bit more than an hour or so ago. And you can see they're still looking for people. A thrift store apparently involved. The front of the store is still standing.

MALVEAUX: And we want to show you another picture here of what the building looked like before the collapse. You can see the dramatic change here. Fully intact. We were learning about this building just the previous hour that it was a mix-use building, apartment complexes as well as, as you can see, what's been mentioned here, a thrift store that was there.

But I want you to - I want you to see these two juxtapositions here. On the left and the right sides of your screen. We're looking at KYW pictures -- live pictures of them literally hand-by-hand walking people out of the debris. You can see the brick and the wood pieces clearly just collapsed to the foundation.

HOLMES: Earlier we spoke - we heard an interview with somebody who saw this happened and dived in and helped a couple of people out and saying the whole area shook when this happened. The thrift store apparently, reportedly, a Salvation Army thrift store. Firemen carrying ladders in there. Obviously a very dramatic scene.

And we've got Sarah Hoye on the line in Philadelphia.

Sarah, where are you? What are you seeing? Where do you know?

SARAH HOYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes. I'm about a block away from where the building did collapse. I'm here where they have cordoned off the street. And right now there seems to be a large number of spectators kind of waiting to see what has happened. You were just referencing the eyewitness, Jordan McLaughlin (ph), who was one of the people first on the scene when that building did collapse and he did jump in. I'm standing near him, as well as some others.

Right now they have the streets closed off for a number of - a number of blocks and there are a large number of fire trucks and other emergency personnel in this area. So the streets are closed and they are still working.

HOLMES: What have you heard about injuries and those who might still be trapped?

HOYE: It seems to be pretty fluid at the moment. What we're hearing also from witnesses was that they did pull out a number of people. And then we are also hearing from sources within the departments that about eight to 10 people have been taken to hospitals. We're still working to get a firm number. And when I have that, I'll get back to you.

HOLMES: Give us a sense, Sarah, of this area, for those who don't know it.

HOYE: This is a -- you know, it's your quintessential downtown area. So this is a very, very busy neighborhood. You have Market Street, which is a very main thoroughfare. This is a few blocks from one of the nation's largest train stations, which is the 30th Street Station here in Philadelphia. So there's a lot of foot traffic. There are a number of cars. There are subways. And, actually, right on that corner, where that building did collapse, is a subway stop. You have grocery stores and other retail space, banks, things of that nature. It's close to Drexel University, close to University of Pennsylvania. So this is a high traffic area.

MALVEAUX: And, Sarah, if you can, tell us how people are reacting, responding to this? Does it seem to be relatively calm? Is it chaotic? Are people asking questions? Is there confusion on the ground?

HOYE: Right now people seem to somewhat be in awe and shock. Kind of, what actually happened? You can see, you know, parts of this crumbled building here and people are really just kind of quiet and watching. This is a very busy area. So when I came on to the scene, there was a number of personnel who were walking by. And it was eerily quiet. This is a corner you can stand at you would have to be yelling in to your cell phone just due to the traffic. So people here are being respectful, but also very curious as wanting to know what happened.

HOLMES: And, again, this is -- you're obviously not there outside the actual building, but for our viewers just joining us --

HOYE: I can see the building. I'm in eye's view of the building.

HOLMES: You can see the building, yes. So this -- from what we know, it was a four-story building connected, as we understand it, to a Salvation Army thrift store, is that right?

HOYE: That's correct.

HOLMES: Right. And what -

HOYE: That was a pretty -- that's a pretty dense corner too. So in also speaking with the eyewitness, he had said the wall kind of collapsed on itself. And at first he thought it was a mistake, that this couldn't be happening, because there is some type of construction or demo going on, on that corner.

HOLMES: What do you actually see from where you are? Paint a picture.

HOYE: Well, from what I can see, just kind of out of the way of some of these buildings here is that you can see kind of a crumbled wall. It's still hard to tell because there are fire trucks in the way, but you can see that something is missing, because on that corner, and I'm familiar with that corner, that Salvation Army's gone.

MALVEAUX: Can you describe for us who's actually there? We're looking at live pictures here. And clearly there are firefighters who are on the ground who are picking through the rubble. But it looked like they were walking away people, either who had been walking around in the building or around the building, or are those volunteers as well who are helping those officials actually pick through some of the rubble?

HOYE: Unfortunately, that I can't see. From my vantage point, I am at somewhat of an obstructed view. All I can see right now are the fire trucks and the large numbers of the fire truck personnel who are in the area. A few trucks have just pulled out. There still are several more on standby. But I can't see exactly what you're seeing, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Sarah, we're going to get back to you in a little bit if you want to make your way through the scene there. We actually have some sound from a witness who saw this building collapse. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her name is Jordan McLaughlin.

Jordan, describe for me where you were, what you were doing and what you witnessed?

JORDAN MCLAUGHLIN: I was walking from school at 22nd and Arch (ph) down to 22nd and Market. I was on the corner of 22nd and Market and they were knocking down a building, a three-story building. And what happened was the building collapsed the wrong way and it landed on a thrift shop. And there was people inside of the thrift shop. Before the building collapsed, you saw one person walk in. So it was - it was scary.

What happened next was I dropped my stuff and I tried to help people out. There was a wooden roof covered with metal. And we pulled people out. We ended up getting two people out. I personally did. There were four or five people that were found within the first 10, 15 minutes.


MCLAUGHLIN: After that they told everyone that was from the street, the first responders told us to leave once the fire engines came.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were people yelling? What was the -- just emotional state at the time? And did it look as though people were severely injured?

MCLAUGHLIN: There was -- well, what happened when the building collapsed was there was people standing on the corner that was right next to the thrift shop. The building was like it had a really big aftershock on the ground. You felt it shake. There was people that actually fell over. People started screaming. They ran across the street. There was people inside the building. You heard them scream. And then we went over to the building. We said, you know, can you hear us, can you hear us, say something. And we tried to find the people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well you said "we." How many other people were coming to the aid of those --

MCLAUGHLIN: There was construction workers nearby.


MCLAUGHLIN: Probably 10, 15 construction workers. And after 10 or 15 minutes they told us to leave. And the first responders, the firefighters came. After five minutes, the fire company right down here came. Maybe even shorter. And they came and they worked alongside with the construction workers and I and other people from the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you feeling now that you've just had a minute to kind of take this in?


HOLMES: We want to bring in now - we've got on the line Ari Barkin.

Ari, I'm told you were - you were across the street, in a building across the street when this happened. Just tell us exactly what unfolded.


HOLMES: Ari, can you hear us?

MALVEAUX: It sounds like we might have lost the connection to Ari there.


MALVEAUX: But according to the witness that we had just heard before, he said that it was the building next door that was supposed to be demolished. And what happened was that the building beside it collapsed and that people immediately descended on the site to try to figure out who was inside of that building.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As they were wheeling her into the emergency room. Again, it's difficult to know what the extent of the injuries are. They need medical attention. So, of course, they didn't stop to tell us what exactly happened to them, where they were in the building or whether they were just walking by. So it's unclear where they were when they were injured as part of this apartment collapse. That we'll, of course, learn as the hours go on. But they are inside right now. They are getting treatment in the emergency room. And this, of course, is the latest here from Hahnemann University Hospital. Katherine Scott, Channel 6 Action News.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Katharine, thank you very much.

A quick question. We're looking at video of a woman being brought in. The victim that you saw brought in --


HOLMES: All right, our first video there of one of the victims of this building collapse being taken into hospital.

I think we - Ari Barkin, we were trying to get in touch with earlier. He was across the road. I think we've got your back now, Ari. Can you just tell us what you saw?

BARKIN: Sure. And who am I speaking with?

HOLMES: This is - this is Michael Holmes and Suzanne Malveaux at CNN.

BARKIN: OK, yes. I came to my window -- I'm at a high-rise across the street. I came to my window probably seconds after I felt and heard the rumble. And I looked down on this corner of 22nd and Market. The three-story structure, which was being demolished, had fallen and collapsed on to the Salvation Army next to it, included the sidewalk and a lane and a half into 22nd Street.

MALVEAUX: And so you say the building that had collapsed was the one that was scheduled to be demolished and it fell on top of the thrift store, is that right?

BARKIN: That's correct. The Salvation Army is a one-story building. The building next to it was vacant, empty. I mean there's reports going around that there's apartments and there are people in it. No, the building next to it was a three-story building had been an adult bookstore and it had been closed and was in the process of being taken down. It was empty. And it was supposed to -- I'm assuming have come down within its property boundaries, but apparently the wall -- the three-story wall fell westward towards the street and Salvation Army. So it collapsed on top of the one-story building.

MALVEAUX: And, Ari, what about the --

BARKIN: And the sidewalk next to it. And this is a sidewalk that a lot of people, including myself, walk. Every type of person just walks on this street. I mean it's right next to the (INAUDIBLE) museum and it's a very high pedestrian street.

MALVEAUX: Ari, what first brought your attention to the building collapse? Did you hear something? I mean, did you turn around in any kind of way or were you just -- happen to be watching across the street?

BARKIN: No, I was in my office in the high-rise across the street and I heard -- felt and heard the rumbling. A very unusual sound. You know, typically, if a truck goes by or, you know, if they're doing roofing work in any of the nearby buildings, they're very short-period sounds. This one continued for a much longer period of time. And then, of course, when I took a look, it was a plume of smoke.

HOLMES: What did you see in terms of -- we understand we heard from an eyewitness earlier that bystanders, basically, jumped into the fray and started pulling people out of, I guess, the thrift store. What did you see?

BARKIN: That's correct. I mean everyone in the immediate - I saw people rush in and immediately come to the site and start to, I'm guessing, look and listen and see, you know, see if they can help. So, yes, there were people -- there were three cars that were hit by the debris that were in the driving lane and - but that -- there were a number of people that did rush on site into the demolished area.

MALVEAUX: And, Ari, when you - when you turned around, when you heard that rumbling noise and then you saw that plume of smoke, were there people there who were on the sidewalk, who were on the ground? People that you could see who were inside of the store?

BARKIN: I could not see inside the store. I know that at any given time there's, you know, a handful of people. You know, maybe even up to 10, 15 people that might be visiting that store. I mean it's right on the corner. It's at a bus stop, so there are always people waiting for the bus at that corner. I can't tell you the number of people that were in at the time, but it is a busy store.

HOLMES: What you're saying too though is, because this is such a busy area and it's important the information you're giving us, that this also tumbled onto a sidewalk that you say is generally pretty busy?

BARKIN: That's correct.

HOLMES: And so what did you see in terms of the sidewalk? Was it busy at that time? Did you see any people there?

BARKIN: I think the people that I did see were in shock, you know, including myself. I think everyone at first just was really in shock. Didn't really -- you know, processing what really was just happening. And then there's a fire station literally two stores - two properties down. You know, so, fortunately, I'm sure they rushed to the scene immediately. So I know people that the emergency crews were on site probably within 15 minutes, 20 minutes.

MALVEAUX: Ari, stay with us. We're going to get back to you.

We're going to take a quick break, but of course, we want to keep talking to you as this breaking news story develops here. But just want to remind our viewers what they're watching here. These pictures from a scene of a building collapse, a three-story building that was set for demolition, we are told, that collapsed onto a neighboring building, a Salvation Army, a thrift store where people were inside.

And what we are seeing on the left side of the screen there is what it looked like before. On the right side is people who are literally going through the rubble digging, looking for survivors who, we are told, up to perhaps eight to ten people trapped inside.

HOLMES: Good information there from Ari Barkin, too. Initially, it was said to be a four-story building. He knows the place. He lives across the street. He says it's a three-story building. It was unoccupied, according to Ari, and was in the process of being demolished and gave us some good information there about what he saw.

We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back with continuing coverage.


MALVEAUX: We are looking at breaking news here. We're following this breaking news story. A building collapse, this is in Philadelphia, really the heart of the city. not far from city hall as well as the train station. An eight-story building. we are told, an abandoned building that used to be an adult bookstore that was set for demolition has crashed onto the neighboring thrift store, the Salvation Army.

People now, rescue as well as firefighters and EMTs, at that site trying to go through the rubble to see if, in fact, there are survivors, people who are trapped underneath.

HOLMES: And persistent reports that as many as eight people, eight to ten people could be trapped in that rubble, but haven't had an update on that for a while.

It's now 12:20 p.m. Eastern. The fire department saying that they were called to the site at 10:43.

We were talking to Ari Barkin before the break and we'll do so again. Ari, you're across the street, literally. What are you seeing out your window now?

BARKIN (via telephone): Well, actually I would like to be able to report that, but I'm in the lobby right now.

HOLMES: Right. OK. Let's go back then for those joining us. The first you heard was a rumble that you thought might have been a big truck or something going by, but it just went on too long. Tell us again.

BARKIN: Right. It was a very unusual sound, and it continued for longer than you would imagine. And then of course it ended and then it was a plume of smoke and the building had collapsed.

MALVEAUX: Ari, was that building undergoing some sort of demolition operation? Was that why you were hearing the rumbling to begin with? Was it something that was scheduled in the neighborhood that was supposed to happen at that site?

BARKIN: There was an excavator already on-site. It had been in the process of being demoed -- the three-story building was in the process of being demoed over the last at least a week, maybe, if not more. So it was in the process. There was just some standard demolition going on. This was far beyond anything that anyone would have expected to have happened.

HOLMES: And this is, just to be clear, this is an old building. It had been around for a while. You can tell sort of brick-by-brick being moved, is that right?

BARKIN: This is probably an 80- or a 100-year-old building. And I was just talking in the lobby with my neighbors and the staff here and we were just noting that it's probably filled with asbestos, too. So, you know, you have those concerns as well.

HOLMES: We're looking at a picture on the screen, on the left of the screen for viewers, and it appears on the right, that would be the -- you're probably not seeing the picture there, Ari, but on the right the thrift store with sort of a brown roof and a yellow sign out the front. Does that make sense to you?


HOLMES: Yeah. So that's the thrift store that the building then collapsed to the right of your screen, if you're watching it on the television there. The building collapsed to the right and onto the sidewalk. The thrift store is on a corner, is that right?

BARKIN: The thrift store's on the corner, and they really should have been closed temporarily during the demolition.

I mean, these are all old buildings. This is a stretch of the street that really has been a sore spot in our city for a long time, and it was finally going through some -- the renovation that was really needed.

HOLMES: Right.

MALVEAUX: And, Ari, to be clear here, the streets that are around this corner, is this a busy intersection? You had mentioned before that you believe there were cars hit by debris and potentially people on the sidewalk at the time. BARKIN: There were three cars that I could see that were hit by debris. It's a very busy sidewalk. I walk this frequently. A lot of my neighbors do. I mean, it's next to the Mutter Museum which is one of the high-tourist attractions in the city. There's a Trader Joe's across the street that I know that most of the neighborhood goes to.

There's a trolley station, underground subway that's literally out the door of the Salvation Army thrift shop. It's a very, very high- traffic area.

HOLMES: Great information, Ari. You're right there on the spot and giving us some good context and texture to all this, and we appreciate it. Do stay with us.

We're going to take a short break. We will be right back.


MALVEAUX: Want to go to an affiliate reporter who's on the ground. This is from WPVI, talking about somebody who actually witnessed this building collapse and then jumped into action shortly afterwards.

Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did talk to a witness this morning, a young man who saw it all. His name is Jordan McLaughlin. He's a teenager from Chestnut Hill. He actually became one of the rescuers in all of this. He tells me he pulled two people out of the rubble who had minor -- relatively minor, non-life threatening injuries.

But as you see, it's still somewhat chaotic down here. The fire and police department still looking for people in the rubble here at 22nd and Market from those buildings that were damaged and the one that's collapsed.

That is all we can really tell you here now.


HOLMES: This building apparently once housed an adult bookstore and a theater at some point according to affiliates.

This was the building that was, according to Ari Barkin from over the street -- he heard this fall down and was telling us earlier that that was the building that was being demolished. And you saw there on that video actually the remains of the thrift store on the corner.

We're just going to go in and show you here the area that we're talking about. It's going to zoom right into the building, eventually. And there we go. And you can see there's the thrift store on the right on the corner. And from what we understand from Ari and the others, just next to it there, that -- well, it's four stories if you count the ground floor, a four-story building. That was the one that was under demolition. It appears that that wall fell to the right of your screen on top of the thrift store and then spilling over into what Ari Barkin was telling us is an extremely busy sidewalk, also hitting cars as well.

MALVEAUX: It's actually on the corner of 22nd and Market Street, and that is very close by to really the heart of the city, if you will. He talked about a very popular museum being right across the street, that there's a Trader Joe's, that there's a subway station that is very close by.

Again, you're looking on the left side of the screen there, the "before" pictures. And then the "after" pictures there as well.

I want to bring in our own Sarah Hoye who is on the scene for us. And, Sarah, just set the scene, if you will. Take us to the ground.

SARAH HOYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good afternoon, Suzanne. Well, I'm here at 21st and Market, so I'm about a block away from where that building did collapse.

Right now there are more people gathering as we are approaching lunchtime. There are helicopters circling above checking out the scene. There still is a significant amount of law enforcement as well as fire department personnel here on the scene.

It is unclear as to if more people have been removed from those earlier reports that we have. So we are awaiting a police update, and once we have that, we'll be able to bring it to you.

I also ran into a witness here who was about a block and a half away when the building did collapse. And I'm going to pass the phone to her and she can explain a little bit about how she initially felt extremely scared and thought that this was a terrorist attack.