Eight people hurt in Chicago building collapse; “My bed shook almost like an earthquake”

CHICAGO (CBS) — Eight people were injured in an apartment building explosion Tuesday morning in the South Austin neighborhood.

A Chicago Fire Department spokesperson confirmed there was an explosion around 9 am in a four-story apartment building at 5601 W. West End Ave.


‘It just blew up out of nowhere’

03:03

A total of 10 ambulances were sent to the scene, and at least eight people have been transported to hospitals. Two victims, a male and a female, were taken to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. Three victims, two males and a female, were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital. One female was taken to West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park. Two evils were taken to Stroger Hospital of Cook County.

Fire Department spokesman Larry Merritt said three victims were in serious to critical condition, with the most seriously injured patient suffering “very traumatic burn injuries,” and being treated at the burn unit at Loyola.

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Debris was sent across the street and damaged cars parked outside. (CBS)

Deputy Fire Commissioner Marc Ferman said one of the people who was injured was across the street at the time.

Hours after the incident, the block where it happened was eerily quiet as one of its largest apartment buildings sat destroyed, with part of the roof pancaked down and crushing the top floor. Now imagine being inside when all 35 units were rocked.

All three victims who were taken to Mount Sinai have since been released.

CBS 2’s Steven Graves spoke to the mother of a victim who was inside the building and at first, she didn’t know about the incident until his aunt called her with details. She says her son is OK.


Two victims to leave hospital after building collapse

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Anthonella Wims, who was released from Mount Sinai Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, said she was waiting at a bus stop across the street from the building when the explosion happened.

“So everything that blew up, it came to me first,” she said. “Glass, just everything. Everything on the top building just blew.”

Wims said, at first, she thought it was a terrorist attack.

“It just blew up out of nowhere. Everybody’s having a regular, normal morning, and it just blew up,” she said.


Victim of Austin building collapse speaks

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She said she saw another man get blown across the street after walking up to the door of the building just as the explosion happened.

Wims said she didn’t smell any gas before the explosion. She said she still has a bad headache and body aches, and cuts and scrapes from flying glass and debris. She also has a gash on her head.

“I’ve just got to basically stay up for a good 24 hours to make sure everything – I don’t pass out unconscious or something,” Wims said.

Family embraced Adams after his release. While thankful he survived, he knows there is nothing to which to return.

“It’s one of those things where you can’t predict it, and when it happens, you know, we all need to pull together as a community,” Adams said.

The Fire Department had to bring in crews to shore up the building during a search of the building. A Fire Department spokesman said the final search of the building was completed, and everyone got out of the building.

Chicago Fire Department video posted on Twitter shows a large amount of debris on the street outside the building. Chopper 2 also spotted debris on the roof of a building across the street.

One neighbor, Shannon Nelson, said she was lying in bed when she heard the explosion.

“My bed shook almost like an earthquake,” Nelson said.

CBS 2’s Graves also spoke to Donnell Adams, who was one of those released after going to the hospital. He said a blast pushed him back, he estimates, about eight feet.

“It was like raining bricks and windows, seals, and the frames, and everything – just everything raining over me, and like, I could just hear people screaming and calling for help,” Adams said. “But there wasn’t nothing I could do.”

Adams said he was heading inside at the time of the explosion.

“I was walking to the door, and as soon as I’m going in the door, the door blows me up,” he said.

Family embraced Adams after his release. While thankful he survived, he knows there is nothing to which to return.

“It’s one of those things where you can’t predict it, and when it happens, you know, we all need to pull together as a community,” Adams said.


‘I can’t believe it’s real’

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CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl initially reported the debris pattern from the explosion has all the patterns of a natural gas explosion, and Nelson said smelled natural gas in the air after the explosion.

However, a Peoples Gas spokesperson said the cause of the explosion remains unknown, and “there is no reason at this point to believe the cause is related to gas or any of our equipment.” As to the question of a gas explosion, the building owner said an investigator told him it likely was not what happened.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey caught up with the owner, Roman Viere with West End LLC.

“One investigator said that they don’t believe it’s gas. That’s all I’ve got to go with,” Viere said. “I asked, him if it’s not gas, what could it be? And he said, ‘A boom.'”

Ferman said the official cause of the explosion remains under investigation. A Fire Department spokesperson said investigators believe the explosion came from the fourth floor of the building. Peoples Gas has shut off natural gas service to the building.

Gas could be smelled afterward, but again, it is not believed that is the reason families are displaced and people are hurt.

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One car was crushed by falling bricks. (CBS)

According to the Fire Department, both the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Chicago Police Department Bomb Unit were on the scene to assist with the response and investigation.

The explosion happened on the top floor of the building on the eastern side of the structure, sending a large amount of bricks into the street and other debris into the street, damaging at least three cars parked along the curb.

The roof of at least one unit in the building collapsed as a result of the explosion, and several windows in the building were also blown out.

In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her thoughts are with the people who were injured and displaced by the explosion.

“We must also thank the brave men and women of the Chicago Fire Department who are working to slaughter the dangerous conditions,” she said.

A total of 135 firefighters and paramedics responded to the scene.

The Chicago Department of Buildings was also called out.

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The roof of the four-story building collapsed. (CBS)

Building inspection records show the building has failed its last 12 inspections since 2010, including citations in January 2017 and February 2018 for “failing to repair or replace defective or out of service smoke detectors and operate continuously.”

The building’s owner told Hickey that one of the lead investigators has told him the explosion is not gas-related. He said he’s owned the building for 20 years, and 31 of the 35 apartments were occupied at the time of the blast.

According to publicly available records, the building has failed 12 inspections in the last 10 years. Most recently in 2020, one violation included a failure to connect a gas appliance to a flue or vent.

It is too early to determine if any of these violations are related to the explosion.

A Buildings Department spokesman said there are no current enforcement cases involving the building, and the department has not received any recent inspection requests from the property owner or calls for service at the building.

Most recently, after an administrative hearing on building code violations in February 2020, a follow-up inspection determined all of the violations had been corrected. During that same inspection, some minor problems were found, including a cracked sidewalk, exterior debris, and bubbling paint, and the owner was ordered to fix those issues.


Building owner: May not have been a gas explosion

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In a statement, owner Viere said, “This is a devastating event and we are heartbroken for all of our residents.”

“Our first concern is the health, well-being and safety of our residents. We are doing everything we can to cooperate with emergency services, and we are ready to do whatever we can to support our residents,” Viere added.

Ferman said it’s unclear exactly how many people have been left homeless. The American Red Cross has responded to the scene to help provide food and shelter to the affected families.


Red Cross assisting victims of Austin building implosion

01:18

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