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Engineer concerns over structural stability of partially collapsed Davenport building

Engineers said the pile of rubble at the base of the collapsed section is not only helping to keep the building upright, but also hampering search and rescue.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — The City of Davenport's consulting engineers are worried about the partially collapsed apartment building on 324 Main Street, saying it is at risk of "imminent collapse."

The engineers and city officials gave more details about the building's history and structural integrity, both before and after the partial collapse.

"The building was built in the early 1900s, OK?" structural engineer Larry Sandhaas said. "The building was made of brick and steel."

Sandhaas explained how the aged building's materials support one another.

"The brick on the outside holds the steel frame inside up," he said. "At the same time, the steel of the building holds the brick up — so when you lose the brick, you lose the stability of the building."

These details were given at a May 30 press conference as protests nearby the site continue, with people day and night holding up signs, asking the city to hold off on demolition and keep searching for survivors.

Engineers said further search and rescue efforts will be challenging because of the risk of disturbing the pile of rubble at the base of the collapse.

"The debris pile itself is helping to hold the building up, okay?" Sandhaas said assertively. "You had five stories collapse into one almost immediately... That reduces the chances that there will be what we call 'void spaces' — large spaces where people can survive."

City officials also addressed concerns over permits that were issued to repair the building's façade after feedback from an engineering firm the building owners hired.

"They actually provided two engineering reports within the last six months — one in the end of January 2023, and one last week," neighborhood services director Rich Oswald said. "What the city asked in January, the engineers would let us know if the building is structurally sound or [residents] would have to vacate. They said the building was structurally sound at the time, and we went with the belief that it was safe to have tenants in there."

Oswald also explained that for the repairs during the May 21 week, those were also done with the understanding that the building was structurally sound.

Officials have still not spoken on possible reasons for the partial collapse, but engineers said they are planning on using survey gear and drones to map the building in digital 3D to determine the best plan going forward.

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