Davenport explores new search of building amid protests

By: - May 30, 2023 6:46 pm

The west side of a Davenport apartment building, which partially collapsed about 5 p.m. Sunday. (Photo by Ed Tibbetts)

Davenport officials said Tuesday they were seeking ways to conduct an additional search in a partially collapsed building in the city’s downtown as protesters complained they hadn’t done enough to find survivors.

At a late morning news conference, officials said there were five people still unaccounted for from the six-story apartment building at 324 Main St., including two people they believe are still in the building. The building partially collapsed Sunday at about 5 p.m.

“We are currently working with technical rescue teams to determine the best options to provide an additional search,” said Jim Morris, the city’s fire marshal.

After the building’s collapse, the city said it rescued seven people in the first hour and helped more than a dozen to safety. But on Monday afternoon, after saying it was transitioning from a rescue to a recovery operation and citing the “unstable condition” of the property, the city said the building was being secured by a contractor and that “demolition is expected to commence in the morning.”

Protesters gathered Tuesday afternoon near the site of a partially collapsed building in downtown Davenport. (Photo by Ed Tibbetts)

Protesters, however, gathered at the site, demanding that officials do more to search for survivors and urging that the demolition should be delayed.

On Monday evening – after the city had said there were no viable signs of life left in the building – a woman named Lisa Brooks was seen waving from the fourth floor and was rescued. That has prompted a number of questions about how thorough the search was.

On Tuesday, Mayor Mike Matson said he was “so thankful” Brooks was found alive, and added he didn’t know how she got there and why she wasn’t found earlier.

Other city officials, meanwhile, said Tuesday they had made extensive efforts to find survivors, even as they balanced the need for safety in a building deemed unsafe. At times, one fire department official became emotional as he described city efforts.

A few hours after the news conference, protesters remained at the site – demanding that the city search more aggressively.

One person carried a sign saying: “You would care if it was your family.” Others chanted: “Save five lives.”

“If anybody’s in there, I just want to see justice,” Amir Jackson, of Davenport, said Tuesday afternoon. “Somebody needs to go into that building.”

Antione Bellamy, of Davenport, said he believes there are people still alive. “They can move faster,” he said.

If crews were to search the debris pile at the back of the building, however, it could destabilize the rest, city officials have said. They say the building needs to come down in a controlled manner so that more lives are not endangered.

The Quad-City Times reported that, at about 2 p.m. on Tuesday, people in bright yellow vests and hard hats had gathered at the front of the building, and some were entering. (At 4:30 p.m., the city issued an update saying a search had taken place within parts of the building and resulted in several animals being rescued. However, the statement said that while crews searched for human activity, none was detected. It added the building continues to degrade, but “recovery of any unaccounted for individuals remains the priority of the City as operational planning progresses.”)

City officials said Tuesday that they had 53 people on a tenant list. The names of all the missing were not released, but local media reports say that at least two people — Ryan Hitchcock and Branden Colvin — are believed to still be in the building.

A relative of Hitchcock’s appeared at the news conference and said she was “mortified” by the protests. Amy Anderson, who was identified as a cousin of Hitchcock, said she didn’t want to see anybody else killed or hurt in attempting to remove the rubble.

“I plead with our community to just let the city do their job,” she said.

There was no representative from the Colvin family who spoke at the news conference.

The city also gave a more detailed explanation of the demolition process on Tuesday. It called it a “multi-phase process,” and Morris said it would be “methodical.” It wasn’t clear how long demolition might take.

Questions still remain about the condition of the building before its collapse. The owner has been identified as Andrew Wold. Multiple media reports say their attempts to reach him for comments have been unsuccessful.

Residents of the building, however, have complained about the building’s condition.

Rich Oswald, the city’s director of development and neighborhood services, said a Bettendorf engineering firm determined in January the building was structurally sound and safe to have tenants. However, a second incident, in May, resulted in more repairs, which were being made at the time of the collapse, he said.

Matson also said that an investigation of the incident will take place, but it had not been determined who would lead it.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kim Reynolds has issued a disaster declaration that provides state resources, including grants of up to $5,000 for people with incomes of up to 200% of the federal poverty level for such things as home or car repairs, food, clothing and temporary housing expenses.

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Ed Tibbetts
Ed Tibbetts

Ed Tibbetts, of Davenport, has covered politics, government and trends for more than three decades in the Quad-Cities. A former reporter and editorial page editor for the Quad-City Times, he now is a freelance journalist who publishes the Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. He is a member of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.