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Amazon warehouse that collapsed in Edwardsville was not built to code, attorney says

Workers attempt to clear debris as part of a search and rescue operation on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at an Amazon Distribution Hub in Edwardsville, Illinois. Violent storms, some producing tornado activity, ripped through the Midwest on Friday night, killing at least two in the warehouse.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Workers attempt to clear debris as part of a search and rescue operation on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at an Amazon Distribution Hub in Edwardsville, Illinois. Violent storms, some producing tornado activity, ripped through the Midwest on Friday night, killing at least two in the warehouse.

An attorney for the family of an Amazon delivery driver killed in a warehouse collapse in Edwardsville in December said Tuesday the building’s support columns were not anchored to the floor, in violation of building codes.

“This is a grave violation,” said Jack Casciato, a partner at Clifford Law. He has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Amazon and other defendants on behalf of the family of Austin McEwan, one of six workers killed when a tornado hit the warehouse on Dec. 10, causing some of the walls to collapse.

In response to Casciato’s claim about the support columns, Amazon said in an emailed statement that “it is premature and misleading to suggest that there were any structural issues,” because investigators continue to examine the building and debris. The company said construction was completed in 2018 in compliance with all applicable building codes.

At the time the warehouse was built, Edwardsville was using the 2006 International Building Code, which says that anchorage of walls and columns to the foundation “shall be provided to resist the uplift and sliding forces that result from the application of the prescribed load.”

Attorneys for the other companies named in the lawsuit, including construction, engineering and design firms, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The findings were part of a report written by Dan Bruno, the fire marshal of the West County EMS and Fire Protection District. He responded to the collapse from St. Louis County as a structures specialist for an urban search and rescue team.

Bruno and his team arrived at the warehouse after 10 p.m. Dec. 10. He and a fellow specialist, Allen Smith, did an assessment in the area of the collapse.

Bruno wrote in his report that both he and Smith noticed “a considerable number of the columns that [a] were not standing appeared to have been lifted out of the floor.” Smith described it as a “peg being lifted out of a hole.”

Casciato compared the walls to a patio umbrella that is not secured in its base.

“A strong wind is simply just going to lift up that umbrella, similar to what occurred here,” he said. “A strong wind picked up the roof and as the roof moved forward, there was nothing underneath the concrete actually anchoring these columns to hold the roof and hold the walls. And when the columns lifted, there was nowhere to go but for the walls to collapse.”

According to Bruno’s report, he told his chief, Jeff Sadtler, that he had found what he believed to be “one or more significant structural issues with the Amazon building that may have contributed to the failure of the structure.” Sadtler contacted federal authorities, who according to the report talked to Bruno.

The collapse is under investigation by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Casciato said it’s difficult for the McEwan family to see Amazon claim the building was built to code when Bruno’s report appears to contradict the company.

“But at the same time, it instills a level of confidence in what they're pursuing and what the other families will be pursuing,” he said.

No additional lawsuits are pending. Casciato said other families have contacted him as well.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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