A former maintenance worker of the collapsed Iowa building has claimed he warned owners about the deteriorating condition of the building three years before the building’s tragic collapse.
There are fears three men are still trapped under the rubble after the collapse of the six-story apartment building on May 28, Davenport authorities said during a news conference on Friday. The search became a remedial measure after it was revealed that neither the owner nor the city council had warned tenants about a report from a civil engineer that indicated one wall of the building was in imminent danger of collapsing.
Aaron Aguilar, who worked and lived in the building at 324 Main Street before it changed hands in 2021, said The Independent In a telephone interview, he indicated that concerns about the building’s safety arose well before last week’s collapse.
Mr. Aguilar said much of the water damage that several tenants have raised concerns about occurred after an August 2020 derecho storm in Iowa. The maintenance worker said he and two other employees assessed the massive damage and reported it to the then-owners and would- Be owner Andrew Wold.
“The roof had basically fallen back about two to two meters. On that whole trailing edge,” Mr Aguilar said. “We had a meeting with the owner beforehand [Mr Wold] took over and [Mr Wold] was involved in the meeting… and we expressed our concern that this building might collapse and no one took it seriously[ly].”
Mr Aguilar, who lived with his family in a sixth-floor flat, said Mr Wold was introduced to him as a builder and allegedly even came to him when he went to the roof to assess the damage caused by the storm .
“That’s when we really realized how bad the damage was,” said Mr. Aguilar. “The water flow was inside and behind, outside at the back of the building…Bricks had fallen off at this point.”
Mr Aguilar said he and two other construction workers had raised their concerns but two weeks after the storm they had not received the green light to proceed with repair work. When they expressed fears during the meeting with the owners that the building might collapse, he said they were sacked and “kind of laughed at.”
“We were very frustrated about that [their response] because I lived there and it wasn’t just my home. “It was other people’s homes and their welfare that were potentially at risk,” Mr Aguilar said The Independent.
“The tenants we’ve known over the years, who had basically become friends, had also expressed their concerns and it was a common question, ‘Is this building going to collapse?’ …Nobody thought it could happen. Basically nobody who hasn’t lived there.”
Mr Aguilar said he believes the damage done three years ago may have been one of the main reasons the structure finally collapsed. Pending an investigation, construction officials have not confirmed a cause for the collapse.
“Of course we didn’t have any expert opinion… but the water flowed from the roof to the basement of the building,” he said. “The collapse happened throughout this central section, and I believe it was caused by a lack of repairs, not preventing the water from damaging the mortar or the grating.”
Mr Aguilar left the building in December 2020 after being told by the owners that they were selling the building to Mr Wold and that he would not continue his employment. The former tenant said he rushed to the site of the collapse when he heard the news and offered to help with the evacuation. However, he was told that only first responders were allowed access.
“I offered to help because I know the building very well. I knew there are access points for the different sites that most people don’t know about and they said they wouldn’t let anyone in,” Mr Aguilar said.
Mr Aguilar knew Ryan Hitchcock, one of the men feared was trapped under the rubble. He was also present when a woman was rescued after authorities said it was “assumed no one was trapped”.
“It was very shocking to see that obviously. I mean the water was still pouring from different floors and all the alarms were still going off,” he said. “By that point the dust had still settled and I picked up the phone and immediately tried to call Ryan because I knew where his apartment was [on the second floor] and apparently I didn’t get any answers.”
The Independent asked Mr. Wold and a previous owner for comment.
Tenants Branden Calvin and Daniel Prein are also missing. City officials said Friday they had “a high probability of being home” at the time of the partial building collapse. Their names have been entered into the National Missing Persons Database.
After the collapse, countless reports have emerged from previous and current tenants, as well as a construction worker, that the condition of the building is uncertain. Nearly 20 permits were filed for the building last year, mostly for plumbing or electrical issues.
Iowa court records reviewed by The Independent show that Mr. Wold and Davenport Hotel LLC are named as defendants in a civil enforcement action filed by the City of Davenport on May 30. Mr. Wold faces a $300 fine for failing to keep the building in a “safe, sanitized and structurally sound condition”. WQAD reports.
It is unclear whether Mr Wold will have an opportunity to present his case to city officials before the fine goes into effect.
Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said May 30 that “the demolition plans have been continually evaluated,” but dodged the question of why the demolition was announced before the city had even addressed that several tenants were still missing.
“Do I regret this tragedy and the possibility of people losing their lives? Hell yes. Am I thinking about it every moment? Hell yeah.” Mr Matson then said on June 1st. “I regret a lot of things. Believe me, we’ll look at it.”
City officials said they did not order an evacuation because they relied on an engineer’s assurances that the building would remain safe. According to an earlier statement, the engineer is said to have been hired by the owner.
Experts say the structure, built in the 20th century, is extremely unstable and collapse is imminent. Because of the arrangement, with the rear brick section holding much of the steel structure together, officials said there were likely no voids where trapped victims would have found shelter.
Fire authorities have since said they have started the permitting process, but will carry out the demolition in a moderate and controlled manner at a later date. City Manager Corri Spiegel said the building is likely “filled with asbestos” due to its age and the city will develop a plan to ensure workers and people in the area are protected if the remaining building is demolished.