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A deck collapsed at a North Carolina beach house as family members gathered for a group photo, officials said, leaving at least 24 injured including some in critical condition from a 10-foot fall.
Emerald Isle Police said officers responded at around 7 p.m. to reports of the collapse and multiple injuries, which ranged from cuts to possible “spinal issues,” said Town Manager Frank Rush.
"The family was on the deck preparing to take a family photo when the event occurred," said a statement from the vacation town’s police department. "Due to the number of casualties involved, neighboring agencies were called in to assist in transporting and dealing with the victims," the statement said.
Rush said the family gathered on a third of the deck for the picture during what was supposed to be their last night of a family reunion vacation, and the victims ranged from age 5 to 94.
Officials said that at least two people were in critical condition as of Sunday morning. All but five of the victims had been treated and released from various hospitals by Sunday afternoon, Rush said during a Sunday afternoon news conference.
Most of the injured were from northern Virginia, Rush said.
He said preliminary findings show the deck collapsed because of deteriorated nails, but the structure, built in the 1980s, would have met current building requirements. “We’re in a harsh natural environment here,” he said.
Emerald Isle Fire Chief Bill Walker said the deck overlooking the ocean was attached to a home raised on pilings, and estimated the victims' fall to be between 10 to 12 feet.
"It's been about 10 years since we've had one of these so it's not an everyday occurrence," Walker told The Associated Press.
Alma Arnold, who was renting the home next door, said the aftermath of the collapse was horrific. She got back from the beach shortly after it happened and saw "a whole bunch of people just on the ground laying on top of the planks from the deck — and you could tell two of them were majorly hurt."
"It was tragic. It was truly, truly, truly sad to watch. There were kids lined up on the grass watching their parents and grandparents," Arnold said, adding that she tried to help, but "I was crying myself."
The cause of the collapse is not known, police said. Emerald Isle is a town located on a barrier island up the coast from the Marine Corps training facility Camp Lejeune.
The house is owned by a North Carolina family and rented out by Bluewater Vacation Rentals and Real Estate. Woody Warren, a co-owner, said the company's "thoughts and prayers" are with the family. "We are asking everyone in this community for their prayers and support," he said. He did not comment on when the deck had last been inspected.
Rush said town officials are not permitted to conduct or require inspections on vacation homes.