Vacant Building Collapses In Philadelphia

A woman was killed when a four-story building collapsed in Philadelphia on Wednesday. A dozen others were rescued from the rubble.

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In Philadelphia today, a vacant building that was being demolished collapsed, raining bricks onto a nearby thrift store. One person died, more than a dozen were injured. Authorities say they don't know what caused the four-story structure to fall.

But as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, they've spent the day combing the rubble for possible survivors.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: It's not clear exactly how many people were in the thrift store when the accident happened late this morning. Rescue crews moved carefully over the debris using buckets and their hands to search through the rubble.

Lloyd Ayers is the Fire Commissioner in Philadelphia.

LLOYD AYERS: The search is being concentrated in the front and the rear of the building, but the search is in the whole area. We're searching the whole area. It's the act of search and rescue. And we're going to search until we get to the basement.

BRADY: The collapse happened in a densely populated section of downtown Philadelphia. High school senior Jordan McLaughlin was walking by.

JORDAN MCLAUGHLIN: The building started to collapse. It landed on top of the thrift shop. And at that moment, I knew it wasn't a mistake because I saw people walk into that thrift shop moments before.

BRADY: McLaughlin says he ran toward the building to help people.

MCLAUGHLIN: They were in pretty poor condition - broken arms, bruised. They couldn't walk, you know? And we had to help them carry them out. So we had to pull them out. They couldn't, like, push up or anything or crawl out, you know?

BRADY: A few blocks away, Harold Corbin was working at a condominium building on the other side of the collapse.

HAROLD CORBIN: Out here emptying my machine from shampooing, heard a loud boom. A lot of dust, ran around the corner and started helping people out the building.

BRADY: Several witnesses said it was hard to breath with all the dust from the collapse. Corbin says there were about 10 people trying to help victims get out of the debris.

CORBIN: You had some guys that actually went in and passed the ladies and stuff off in that they passed them up, we put them on the curb and went back and grabbed another lady. She didn't have any shoes on - put her on the curb, then it was two gentlemen coming out. We helped them down. And then the first response guys got here, and they were like, you guys did a great job, just please back away now.

BRADY: Corbin's co-worker Jim Buggey says one of the people they rescued was an older woman.

JIM BUGGEY: She was just in complete shock, and she just laid there and just kept screaming for her pocketbook. And I handed her her pocketbook, and then she was cool. And she just laid there, and then they came over, and they put a neck brace on her. And then we went back and grabbed another one.

BRADY: The building that collapsed was being torn down. City officials say crews had the proper permits to do that. Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials are at the collapsed site, and the agency says it's investigating.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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