On Monday morning, hours after part of a century-old apartment building collapsed on a downtown street, officials in Davenport, Iowa, said they were unaware of anyone still trapped under the rubble.
That afternoon, when cracked bricks from the unstable structure left the units’ interiors exposed, the city announced that its fire department had handed over control of the site and that recovery work had begun. They said the demolition was “expected to begin” the following day.
But by nightfall on Memorial Day, it was clear Davenport’s leaders had miscalculated: After protesters gathered at the site, rescue teams located a resident inside the building and pulled her to safety.
“The immediate question I know people ask is, ‘How did you get there?'” Why was it not found before? “I am completely transparent with you. I don’t know. We do not know.”
The partial collapse of the six-story building near the Mississippi River, and dealing with its aftermath, enraged residents who wondered if more could be done to prevent the collapse and who said the city moved too hastily to declare the rescue complete. .
Dozens gathered outside the building on Tuesday, some holding signs with messages such as “Save lives, not property.” Officials said at least five people with ties to the building remained missing on Tuesday, including at least two who are believed to have been inside. No deaths have been confirmed.
Like in New York City, where a parking garage collapse with unresolved safety violations killed one person earlier this year, and in Surfside, Florida, where a 2021 apartment building collapse killed 98 people, there have been warnings. about problems at 324 Main Street in Davenport, a city of 100,000 located about halfway between Des Moines and Chicago.
A complaint about the building resulted in brickwork, Davenport officials said in January, even though an outside engineer deemed the structure, which houses dozens of units and residents, to be structurally sound. Months later, they said, another report led to permits for repairs, which were underway at the time of the crash.
Aaron Aguilar, who visited the crash site Monday, said he had been living on 324 Maine and had done maintenance work there. Mr. Aguilar said the building was badly damaged by a severe storm in August 2020, and some residents had to evacuate for some time afterward. He said the collapse appeared to have occurred in the part of the building near the worst of the storm damage.
“I cried this morning when I learned what happened,” Mr. Aguilar said in an interview, adding that he still knows the people who live there.
Attempts to reach the property owner on Tuesday were unsuccessful. The authorities said an investigation would be launched.
Officials in Davenport defended their handling of the crash on Tuesday, noting that rescue crews rushed to the scene Sunday and rescued several people despite great personal risk. In the hours that followed, search and rescue teams arrived from all over Iowa, including trained dogs, and found no sign of anyone still buried in the mound.
“Our constant assessment of what to do or not to do happened in real time,” Mattson said Tuesday when pressed on why the city announced plans to begin demolitions when it was revealed people were still missing.
With demolition plans on hold, next steps remained uncertain. The building was dangerously unstable, the structural engineers and salvage crew said, it was doomed to fall on its own at some point, and even doing another sweep would be too risky.
“It’s very difficult: You can’t run into a pile of bricks and rocks and start throwing things, as much as we want,” said Jim Morris, assistant fire chief and city fire superintendent. “We want to get everyone out and we want to do that now.”
Later in the day, rescue workers entered the building and came out with six cats, a snake, and a lizard, which the owners provided pictures of and told them of their whereabouts.
The pets all appeared to be healthy, said Erica Jean, executive director of the local humane society, who waited outside to check on the animals. “We are excited and relieved,” she said.
However, there was no immediate news on the status of the missing residents.
Amy Anderson, who said family member Ryan Hitchcock was among the missing, asked for calm and respect as crews studied the building and prepared to resume the search.
“I implore our community just to let the city do its job for the time being,” said Ms. Anderson, who described Mr. Hitchcock’s Christian faith, saying he did not want anyone looking for him to be hurt. “It’s an absolute no-win situation, but this is the best plan of attack and we don’t want to hurt anyone else.”
Outside the apartment building, Branden Colvin Jr., 18, said he was “still holding out hope” for his father, Branden Colvin Sr., who remains missing.
Mr. Colvin had returned to the block from work on Sunday afternoon, visited a neighbor and then returned to his unit to take a nap, family members said.
No one has seen him since. His black Honda Accord remained parked outside.