Repair work had begun 4 days before Davenport, Iowa, apartment building collapsed, documents show

Four days before a portion of an apartment building in Davenport, Iowa, collapsed, work to rectify recently discovered façade and wall issues was underway, documents released Wednesday by the city and a permit show.

The section of the wall that was being repaired is the section that ultimately collapsed, according to a CNN review of photos of the property released by the city.

Three people who lived in the crash zone remain missing. Rescuers have been trying to find Branden Colvin Sr., Ryan Hitchcock and Daniel Prien, whose apartments were in the massive section of the building that disintegrated Sunday afternoon, police said.

The structure’s issues were found when inspectors and a private-sector structural engineer visited the building on May 23 and found that the brick façade was separated from the interior wall and appeared “ready to fall imminently,” according to a letter from the engineer dated May 24.

The engineer assessed that the “brick façade is unlikely to be preserved in place, but it can be brought down in a safe, controlled manner,” the letter says. The engineer also found the interior wall “appears to be loosing (sic) some stability and is causing deformation.”

In addition to fixing the façade, the structural engineer also recommended that a steel column be added to support a beam that was believed to have been bearing down on the affected wall.

When city inspectors did a second site visit on May 25, they noted that brick work had begun, according to inspection notes on a permit issued by the city for the work. There’s no explicit mention of any work on the wall in the permit notes, and it’s not clear at this time whether any work had been done prior to the collapse.

Photos taken on May 25 by city inspectors and released by the city appear to show a void formed between the façade and interior wall, and crumbled bricks are seen in the space.

One photo, taken by a city inspector on May 25, shows wood planks leaning up against the building’s western wall as well.

The permit issued on May 24 was the second time this year the building needed masonry repairs on the section of wall that ultimately collapsed, according to the city’s permit and inspection records.

‘Similar repair’ had been done before

Davenport Director of Development and Neighborhood Services Rich Oswald confirmed in a news conference Thursday “it was a similar repair” to what was done to the building earlier in the year.

The prior repairs were ordered by the city after they received a complaint on February 2 about an unsafe wall at the building from an electric and natural gas company, according to a spreadsheet from the city tallying complaints, inspection and site visit details, and corrective actions taken at the building.

When building inspectors and a private-sector structural engineer arrived on-scene that day, they determined there was “visible dilapidation” on a portion of the western “exterior and interior walls,” the document said.

That initial repair work, according to a construction permit and the spreadsheet, took several months and was completed on May 1.

A son wants to ‘run in there right now’

Now, as families of those missing agonize and wait, city officials are grappling with how to proceed.

If rescuers try to re-enter, the rest of the building could topple and crush them.

“It’s dangerous, and it’s shifting,” Mayor Mike Matson said Thursday.

But plans to demolish the Davenport building – originally scheduled for Tuesday morning – are now on hold.

“We’re not anywhere near doing that right now,” the mayor said. “We are working on a timeline. We are reaching out to experts that have particular expertise in taking it down (in) a dignified and respectful way.”

Branden Colvin Jr. has been sleeping on the pavement outside the partially collapsed building, where his father may be trapped in the rubble.

The 18-year-old should be getting ready for his high school graduation Saturday. But he refuses to leave the scene – even as officials warn the rest of the building could come crashing down at any time.

Worried members of the community have wondered about the fates people unaccounted for after Sunday's partial building collapse. - KWQC

“If they told me I could, I’ll run in there right now,” Colvin told CNN, fighting back tears. “I haven’t slept. I have been out here three days, at night, all night, just waiting for anything.”

The teen said he’s desperate to hear the voice of his father, Branden Colvin Sr.

“I love how much he talks. Before, it was annoying. But now, I just miss him,” he said.

Branden Colvin Sr. - From Facebook

While no deaths were reported, eight people were rescued from the building within a day of the collapse, officials said. By Monday afternoon, the city said rescue efforts had turned into a recovery operation, and the building was expected to be demolished Tuesday morning.

But those demolition plans were scrapped after a ninth survivor was unexpectedly rescued from an apartment late Monday.

“That right there is an indicator that we need to go up there (again),” Davenport Fire Marshal Jim Morris said Tuesday.

But each time rescue crews went into the structure, the building shifted, Morris said. And a massive weight load on what’s left of the roof – including air conditioning units and utility equipment – intensifies the risk of total collapse, potentially crushing rescue crews and anyone else who may be inside.

On Thursday, Davenport police said two people who were previously unaccounted for were found safe.

The families of some of the missing are at odds about what should happen next.

The family of Ryan Hitchcock has already accepted the likelihood that their loved one is gone and supports the city’s plans to carefully take down the rest of the building to prevent further harm, relative Amy Anderson said.

“Ryan wouldn’t want anyone else to put their lives at risk,” Anderson said at a news conference Tuesday.

“I don’t discount that he could be trapped under there miraculously,” she said. “But we don’t want to see any more families lose their lives or anybody else be injured in trying to remove that rubble and have anything fall.”

After days of using dogs, drones, thermal imaging and other tools, the odds of finding more survivors appear slim.

And the way the building partially collapsed “reduces the chances that there will be spaces – what we call void spaces – large spaces where people can survive,” said Larry Sandhaas, a structural engineer hired by the city to assess the building.

But Colvin’s family hasn’t given up and urged officials to keep searching.

Demonstrators rally Tuesday in support of continuing search efforts at a partially collapsed apartment building. - Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen/AP

“You know there are people still unaccounted for, but you want to tear down the building. What sense does that make?” Colvin’s cousin Preston McDowell told CNN. “They’re not giving us any answers. I just don’t get it.”

The missing man’s son said he’s not sure if he’ll be able to walk across the stage at graduation Saturday.

“We had finals this week, Tuesday, and I tried to go to school. As soon as I walked in, I just broke down, and I was just crying,” the younger Colvin said. “So, I don’t know if I am going to be able to go to my graduation.”

Investigators probe cause of the collapse

Shive-Hattery, an engineering firm hired by the city, used a forensic drone Wednesday to further assess the partially collapsed building and its structural stability, the city of Davenport said Wednesday night.

The property owner’s insurance representatives and structural engineers also visited the site Wednesday to complete an independent structural damage assessment, the city said.

The owner of the building, Andrew Wold, has been cited for failing to maintain the structure in a safe and structurally sound condition, according to a court document filed Tuesday. He faces a $300 fine plus court costs if he is found guilty or doesn’t contest the citation, the document says.

Wold’s court date is set for June 9. CNN has asked the city for more information about the violation.

The building’s owner had current permits for repairs to the exterior wall, officials said.

According to CNN affiliate KWQC, Wold and the property management team released a statement that didn’t address the violation but said their “thoughts and prayers are with our tenants and families during this difficult time.”

The cause of the collapse has still not been determined, but the city plans to turn over documentation including videos, photos and logs to an investigative team, Matson said. The agency that will lead the investigation has yet to be determined, the mayor said.

CNN’s Caroll Alvarado, Chris Boyette and Kara Devlin contributed to this report.

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