NATIONAL NEWS

Amputation frees woman from collapsed Iowa building debris

May 31, 2023, 9:00 AM | Updated: 6:34 pm

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — One moment Lexus Berry and her wife were rushing toward the door of their fourth-floor apartment, and the next, Quanishia “Peach” Berry was gone.

Their apartment had disappeared into a heap of bricks and steel far below, leaving Lexis Berry running by herself to a stairwell in the teetering building, panicked that she might never see her wife again.

“The moment that we hit the door, it started to shake and rattle and literally — it all just happened in the blink of a second – the floors caved in, like collapsed,” Lexus Berry said Wednesday. “So as the floors were falling, and she was falling four stories down, there were still two stories above her falling and two stories falling above me. It was all crumbling.”

The six-story building in downtown Davenport partially collapsed just before 5 p.m. Sunday, but it took hours before rescuers found Peach Berry trapped in the rubble and then determined one of her legs would need to be amputated to pull her free. Lexus Berry gave her assent. Doctors removed the leg and rushed her to a hospital, mindful that the remainder of the building could come down at any time.

“It’s definitely something that’s like a miracle that she’s here,” Lexus Berry said. “Due to the circumstances, they had to make a judgment call. And that’s the best thing for her, honestly, because she’s still here.”

As Peach Berry recovered in the hospital, crews in Davenport puzzled over next steps for the unstable structure, where five residents remained unaccounted for and officials feared at least two of them might be stuck in a mound of debris at the base of the 116-year-old building. Officials have said the building is continuing to shift and they need to bring it down, but they think any effort to find remains in the debris pile could cause the rest of the structure to collapse.

Davenport Police Chief Jeff Bladel said there were 53 tenants in the 80-unit building, and now most of them are struggling to find housing and start rebuilding their lives. They have not been allowed into the apartments to retrieve belongings, though crews were able to rescue some pets Tuesday.

Toriana Hill and her 3-year-old son Nassir Gladney were among those who sought help Wednesday at a newly opened American Red Cross shelter several miles from the downtown building.

They were in their top-floor apartment when their dog, Luna, began barking. Hill heard other booming sounds but figured they were from the busy street below, until neighbors began screaming. She checked the hallway and found the lights were out.

Hill picked up her son and fled but debris blocked one staircase, forcing her to find another toward the back of the building.

“It was bricks already falling so I’m like, ‘how the hell am I going to do this, how the hell am I going to do this?’” she said. “I just kept running. I kept running until I hit the first floor, and by the time I made it to the door, I don’t know if it was the police officer or the fireman snatched me up, but I was just happy I made it out.”

Hill is looking for a new apartment and is hopeful she’ll find something soon.

City officials didn’t release new details about its plans for the building Wednesday, but at about 6 p.m. the city released hundreds of pages of documents, including structural engineering reports, violation notices and resident complaints, according to the Quad-City Times.

Among the documents was an inspection report by Select Structural Engineering, hired by building owner Andrew Wold to advise on building work, that described patches of brick façade that were separating from the building. The report noted bulging that needed to be secured to “keep the entire face of the building from falling away when the bottom area(s) come loose.”

The newspaper also published comments by Ryan Shaffer, a co-owner of a masonry company that was doing work near the now-partially collapsed building. Shaffer said Wold asked him for a quote for work on the building but rejected it as too costly. In part, Shaffer said, the high cost was because of a need to support the building.

“I said, ‘If we don’t do it this way exactly, I’m not putting my guys in there. Somebody is going to die,’ ” he said.

Wold released a statement dated Tuesday, his first comments since the partial collapse, saying “our thoughts and prayers are with our tenants” and that his company, Davenport Hotel, L.L.C., is working with agencies to help them.

County records show Davenport Hotel, L.L.C. acquired the building in 2021 in a deal worth $4.2 million. The city later declared the building a nuisance due to numerous solid waste violations, and a judge ordered Wold to pay a $4,500 penalty after he did not appear in court.

Tuesday, the city filed a new enforcement action against Wold, saying that he had failed to maintain the property “in a safe, sanitary, and structurally sound condition” before the collapse. The city is seeking a $300 fine.

Emails sent to an attorney believed to be representing Wold have not been returned.

On Tuesday, city officials said they feared that two residents were stuck inside the rubble and that it was too dangerous to search the debris. Another three people remained unaccounted for Tuesday, but officials said they might not have been in the building when it began collapsing.

Protesters have been pushing to thoroughly search the building and debris before the city moves ahead with plans to demolish the rest of the structure. Officials had planned to begin staging the site for a tear-down as early as Tuesday morning but they delayed their efforts after a woman was found Monday evening.

Fire Marshal James Morris said explosives will not be used on the building, which is near other structures and is “unstable and continues to worsen.”

He said there will be an investigation into what caused the collapse but that it’s unclear so far whether a criminal investigation is warranted.

Soon after the the Davenport Hotel, built in 1907 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, partially collapsed, officials said crews escorted 12 people from the building and rescued several others later.

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This story has been corrected to show that the city is seeking a $300 fine from the building owner, not $3,000.

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McFetridge reported from Des Moines, Iowa, and Ahmed from St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Amputation frees woman from collapsed Iowa building debris