A Poughkeepsie, New York, woman is lucky to be alive after several harrowing hours trapped underneath the rubble from a partially collapsed building. Firefighters and other emergency personnel worked for four and a half hours in brutally hot conditions to free the woman, in the process endangering their own lives.
The building, whose owner and nearby residents say showed warning signs for some time, is now being demolished. Officials believe that a severe storm in the area caused the partial collapse, but that still leaves questions as to why the safety of the structure was not assessed and action taken earlier—before the lives of surrounding workers and residents were put at risk.
Vacant Academy Street Building Caused Chain-Reaction Collapse
The building at 19 Academy Street was unoccupied for some time when, at approximately 4:04 p.m. on June 18, 2018, the top part of the building collapsed, sending debris tumbling down onto buildings at 15 Academy Street and 17 Academy Street, both of which contain a combination of commercial and residential spaces.
The impact from the initial building’s collapse caused part of the roof of the building at 17 Academy Street to collapse, according to City of Poughkeepsie police officials.
A full investigation into the Poughkeepsie building collapse will take some time, but Mayor Rob Rolison told reporters that officials believe a storm with gusts of more than 60 miles per hour is what caused the initial collapse at 19 Academy Street.
No one inside 17 Academy Street suffered harm, but the building failure trapped two victims inside 15 Academy Street. Officials evacuated all other building occupants due to the risk of further collapse.
43-Year-Old Woman Trapped for Hours in Hottie’s Boutique
One of the victims trapped in the rubble was an unidentified male who rescuers freed by 5:00 p.m. Although he was conscious, rescuers took him out of the building on a stretcher. The other victim, a 43-year-old woman named Rotanya Hargrove, remained trapped for four-and-a-half hours in total.
Hargrove was inside Hottie’s Boutique, a boutique she owns at 15 Academy Street when the collapse occurred. Recalling the events after her rescue, Hargrove told CBS New York she heard a big boom before she debris covered her, leaving her unable to move her lower body. She remembered extreme pain and thinking that she was going to die in the building.
Other witnesses described the sight of bricks falling from the sky and a noise similar to the building being struck by a bulldozer.
Firefighters Battled Extreme Heat, Dangerous Conditions During Structural Collapse Rescue
Firefighters faced a difficult battle as they freed Hargrove. Partially collapsed and collapsed buildings hold countless dangers for rescuers. Generally, they avoid entering such buildings for those reasons, but with Hargrove’s life at stake, the Poughkeepsie Fire Department proceeded.
“In a normal circumstance we wouldn’t have anybody near this building,” Poughkeepsie Fire Chief Mark Johnson told news outlets. “But we have a person in there who is healthy and alive and we’re gonna do everything for her so we can get her out.”
Fire personnel located Hargrove and stayed by her side while the New York state urban rescue task force secured the building for Hargrove’s extrication.
Adding further complication to Hargrove’s rescue was severe heat in the area. Throughout the rescue, three firefighters developed heat exhaustion and eventually firefighters switched to rotating 10-minute shifts to prevent further injuries.
Finally, at approximately 8:30 p.m., firefighters carried Hargrove from the building and to her family waiting outside.
Trapped Woman Expected to Recover Fully, Grateful to Be Alive
Hargrove, who suffered a leg fracture, is now recovering at an area hospital, with her mother and daughters at her side. A full recovery is expected to take several months.
Hargrove said her ordeal gave her a new appreciation for life. She also spoke of how she couldn’t wait to see the firefighters to whom she owes her survival.
Full Building Demolition for 19 Academy Street Underway
The building at 19 Academy Street is already undergoing demolition, with crews working slowly to avoid causing further damage to the buildings surrounding it. Contractors hired to perform the demolition work say there is no chance of salvaging any part of the building. For now, the focus is on preserving the other old buildings on the street, which could also be susceptible to collapse.
Few people seem surprised by the building’s collapse. One of the evacuated residents from a neighboring building described 19 Academy Street as a ticking time bomb and said that the area residents should have voiced complaints and its safety earlier.
The building’s owner, Eric Anderson of Urban Green Builders, stated that the vacant building had long had structural issues and that they’d hoped they could renovate it sufficiently before something like this happened. Anderson cited the storm as an unforeseeable factor that they could never have predicted.
It is not uncommon for lawsuits to be brought against building owners who are believed to not have taken the appropriate safety measures to prevent a structural failure.