Part of a six-floor parking deck near downtown Atlanta collapsed Monday, crushing at least 35 cars, with fire officials saying it was miraculous there were no reports of injuries hours after the mass of concrete fell during a busy lunchtime.
Crews were stabilizing the building with timber supports, and firefighters were preparing to search car by car in the evening. The deck "pancaked" from the fourth floor to the first level. More than 50 firefighters rushed to the parking deck and the bottom level was a "huge mess of vehicles and concrete," said Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran
"We're hoping with all our hearts that we don't find any people inside," Cochran said at a news conference.
What caused the 7-year-old structure to collapse was not immediately known. Hardin Construction, the general contractor on the deck, was one of three companies that was working at the Atlanta Botanical Garden when a pedestrian bridge collapsed in December, killing one worker and injuring 18.
The search of the parking deck was delayed when engineers spotted signs of bolts popping on the other side of the deck, said J.P. Spillane, an Atlanta police official. A handful of welders soon entered to shore up the area. Search dogs were to ready to sniff through the rubble once the building was secure.
"We want to be absolutely sure the building is safe and there is no secondary collapse," Cochran said.
No code violations
Firefighters will tunnel through the debris with listening devices to pick up any noise from possible victims, Cochran said.
If no one is found, he said crews will then do a "more aggressive" search using heavier equipment. The work could continue through the night.
Hardin Construction spokeswoman Barkley Russell confirmed the company was the general contractor on the deck and surrounding office complex. She said the majority of the deck work was done by subcontractor Metromont Corp., based in Greenville, South Carolina.
There are 1,415 spaces and about 35 were affected, Russell said in a statement.
"We are just thankful at this point there are no reports of injuries," Russell said.
Russell directed questions about how the deck was designed to Metromont Corp., which did not immediately return a call for comment.
Earlier this month, Hardin was fined $6,300 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Botanical Garden bridge collapse. The agency's report concluded Hardin and another company placed two support towers too far apart, which may have caused the collapse. The company is appealing.
The parking deck was last inspected at the time it was built and cleared for occupancy in 2002, said Catherine Woodling, spokeswoman for Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. It has not had any code violations since, Woodling said.