The Lookout

Philadelphia building collapse: Witnesses describe chaotic scene, people pulled from rubble

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The scene shortly after the building collapsed (Les Carpenter/Yahoo Sports)

Witnesses to the building collapse in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning described what was initially a chaotic scene and frantic search for people trapped under the rubble.

"It felt like an earthquake," Bernie Ditomo, a truck driver who was parked nearby, told Philadelphia's NBC affiliate. "I said, 'What the hell is going on?' My truck is totaled. I am a little dusty and dirty, but I’m alright. I am one of the lucky ones.”

The four-story building, which was in the process of being demolished, collapsed onto an adjacent Salvation Army thrift store at 10:41 a.m., fire officials said. One person died and at least 13 people were rescued and transported to local hospitals with minor injuries. One person remained trapped inside.

"There are firemen, police, construction guys digging out, because I believe people are down there," Corey Vey, who was driving and saw the building collapse, told NBC. "It's crazy right now."

Jordan McLaughlin told CNN affiliate KYW-TV that he pulled two people from the rubble before the fire department arrived.

Les Carpenter, a columnist for Yahoo Sports, was walking about a block away when the building collapsed.

"I saw two construction workers in hard hats run along Market, past the thrift store, around the corner and climbing onto the rubble," Carpenter said. "I could also see a few pedestrians heading into the rubble as well. Very quickly two people were placed on a sidewalk and paramedics were treating them."

At first, authorities thought there might have been an explosion.

"One officer kept saying, 'We are concerned there is going to be a second explosion,'" Carpenter said. "About 15 minutes later the police chief, Charles Ramsey, came by, 'It was a collapse, definitely not an explosion.'"

Search and rescue dogs were brought in to search, he said, and firefighters formed a human chain, meticulously moving buckets of debris out of the building in a search for survivors.

"This is a delicate and dangerous operation," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said at a press briefing on the rescue and recovery effort.

"One thing that struck me is how quiet the scene was," Carpenter added. "I never heard screaming. No one seemed shaken or rattled. The site itself was quiet. No ringing alarms. No car alarms. No noise from rubble."

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