CLINTON, Mo. — Rescuers saved nine people trapped in the rubble of a three-story building that partially collapsed during an Elks Club dinner, but the club’s leader was found dead early Tuesday, about 12 hours after the roof fell in, officials said.
Tony Komer, the 32-year-old “exalted ruler” of the Clinton Elks Lodge, had been on the top floor preparing to give a speech when the century-old brick building began to collapse Monday night.
Clinton Police Lt. Sonny Lynch said Tuesday morning that crews were trying recover Komer’s body from the rubble. The last survivor was pulled from the building about 5:30 a.m.
About 50 people were inside the Elks Club building when the third floor collapsed around 7:30 p.m. Monday, officials said. Most were finishing dinner on the second floor before an Elks meeting at which new members were to be initiated.
‘Walking wounded’ pulled out
The first seven rescued were able to walk out of the 100-year-old brick building, some with the help of rescuers, while the eighth had to be carried out because of a crushed wrist and possible broken leg. Five were taken by ambulance to area hospitals, and the three others had to be transported by helicopter, officials said.
Lynch said rescuers were taking extra precautions because they didn’t want to cause the building to collapse further. “This must be done in a step-by-step manner,” Lynch said. “We’re not in a hurry.”
Lynch said the man who still hadn’t been located was an officer for the Elks Club who had gone up to the third floor to memorize a lengthy paragraph that he was to recite at the initiation.
Kansas City, Mo., Fire Chief Smokey Dyer, who was coordinating rescue efforts, said the front of the building had to be stabilized before the search could begin for the missing man.
Henry County Presiding Commissioner Greg Lowe, who was eating dinner in the building when it started to collapse, said he wasn’t sure he was going to make it out alive.
“It started caving in,” he said. “I went into the next building. The ceiling was falling in. I got to the front and we were going to jump, and then we found a staircase.
“It happened so fast,” said Lowe, who had a cut on his head and knots and bruises on his legs from falling brick. “I don’t know what in the hell would make the thing come down so fast. I figured I was history.”
Lee Pierce, manager of the Elks Lodge, said she had just finished cooking for the gathering when the building began crumbling around her.
“I was standing there and literally the ceiling fell and everything fell into a hole,” Pierce said. She said she was able to get out of the building unharmed, but lost her shoes in the process. “There wasn’t anything to think about,” she said. “It was just, get out.”
100th anniversary of club
About 200 emergency personnel were on the scene early Tuesday, including a specialized rescue team from Whiteman Air Force Base, crane operators and an urban search-and-rescue team. Rescuers were using camera and sound devices and canine rescue dogs in their efforts to get to those trapped inside.
Clinton Mayor Gus Wetzel said the collapse came at a time when the Elks Club was marking a milestone in the city.
“It’s a sad time for us, a time of irony,” Wetzel said. “This Elks Club was celebrating their 100th anniversary in our community.”
The collapse occurred in the aging downtown of this community of about 9,500 people, upstairs from a men’s clothing store, sandwiched between a law firm and a pharmacy.
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