Structural engineer reported issues ahead of Iowa building collapse, documents show


(DAVENPORT, Iowa) — The city government of Davenport, Iowa, has released dozens of documents in connection with an apartment building that partially collapsed as three residents remain missing and the community demands answers.

The documents were published Wednesday evening on the city’s website. Three of the files were reports by a structural engineer who inspected The Davenport at 324 North Main St. earlier this year. The city had ordered the building’s owner to hire an engineer following various complaints from residents.

During an emergency site visit on Feb. 2, David Valliere from Select Structural Engineering reported seeing “a localized area of brick [that] is cracked and crumbling” on the west exterior wall of the six-story property, which housed commercial space at the street level and residential units in the floors above.

“This engineer determined that this is not an imminent threat to the building or its residents, but structural repairs will be necessary,” Valliere wrote in a letter dated Feb. 8.

During a follow-up site visit on Feb. 23, Valliere reported that the recommended repairs were being performed by a mason and appeared “to be going to plan,” but “the mason pointed out that the area immediately to the north of the work area has a large and potentially dangerous void beneath the façade wythe of clay brick.”

“This void appears to have been caused by the collapse of some mass of clay brick between the façade and CMU,” Valliere wrote in a letter dated Feb. 28. “This collapsed mass is now settled and piling up against the inside face of the façade, pushing it outward. This will soon cause a large panel of façade to also collapse, creating a safety problem and potentially destabilizing the upper areas of brick façade. This condition was not visible in the early inspection(s) and did not become apparent until repairs were under way and an opening was made by a smaller area of failing façade.”

The engineer made another follow-up site visit on May 23, five days before the building partially collapsed. During that visit, Valliere reported seeing “several large patches of clay brick façade” that were “separating from the substrate” on the west exterior wall of the building.

“These large patches appear ready to fall imminently, which may create a safety hazard to cars or passersby,” Valliere wrote in a letter dated May 24. “The owner has already blocked off the area with cones and has begun removing drywall from the inside of the wall to get a view of what might be happening.”

“Inside the first floor, the drywall is being stripped away. This reveals that the window openings were never filled with brick or block. Rather, the clay brick façade was just run right over the openings, unsupported,” the engineer added. “This lack of bracing helps explain why the façade is currently about to topple outward. The brick façade is unlikely to be preserved in place, but it can be brought down in a safe, controlled manner.”

When ABC News called Select Structural Engineering for comment on Wednesday, the person who answered the office telephone said, “We are aware of the incident and do not have any more comments at this time as we are still trying to determine the details of the situation.”

Davenport Development and Neighborhood Services Director Rich Oswald said at a news conference Thursday that an inspector mistakenly issued a permit to start repair work at the building as “pass” last week, when it should have been marked as “incomplete.” Then a system error changed it to be viewed as “fail” on the public-facing system, he said.

“We had an inspector go down on [May] 25, they made a field inspection,” he said. “That inspector left for the weekend. And when they returned on May 30, they went into the system to update their notes from that inspection, and noticed that they had in error they had marked it ‘pass’ when they created the permit.”

“Our IT department has worked to resolve that glitch,” Oswald said, adding that the employee involved resigned on Wednesday.

A section of the building collapsed on Sunday afternoon. More than a dozen people evacuated at the time and eight others were rescued in the 24 hours that followed. Several pets were also rescued.

On Monday, officials said there was no credible information that anyone was missing and the city would move forward with plans to begin demolishing the remaining structure the next day. But that night, rescuers found a ninth person alive inside and pulled her out of a fourth-story window. It was unclear how the woman was not found earlier by crews using thermal imaging, drones and service dogs. The development prompted protests from members of the community calling for the demolition to be delayed.

On Tuesday, the city’s demolition plans were put on hold as officials announced that five residents were still unaccounted for, including two men — Branden Colvin and Ryan Hitchcock — who may be inside. Crews rescued several more animals from inside the structure that afternoon but no human activity was detected, according to officials.

Then, on Thursday, officials announced that only three people remain missing — Colvin, Hitchcock and a third resident who lived in the impacted area of the building and with whom authorities have not been able to make contact.

Police on Thursday called it a “recovery situation” for Colvin and Hitchcock, noting that they’re likely inside the apartment building in an area that’s “not sustainable for life.”

Officials have warned that the structure is unstable and continues to degrade. Crews are working with structural engineers on how to best search the building while avoiding the pile of debris, which is currently contributing to the stability and its “removal could jeopardize or accelerate the inevitable collapse of the building,” according to the city government.

The city has fined the building’s owner, Andrew Wold, $300 for failing to maintain a safe and sanitary building, plus $95 for court costs. Wold is expected to appear in court on June 9.

When asked for comment, Wold and the property management team told ABC News in a statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants and families during this difficult time. We would like to thank the brave men and women of Davenport fire, Davenport police department, and all other first responders for their tireless efforts to ensure everyone’s safety. We have been working closely with the American Red Cross and other agencies to assist the displaced tenants.”

They are also working to refund all deposits to tenants as quickly as possible, a property manager told ABC News.

ABC News’ Laryssa Demkiw, Alexandra Faul, Jessica Gorman, Ahmad Hemingway and Darren Reynolds contributed to this report.

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