Cocoa Beach, FL Condominium Collapses, Mar 1981
CONDOMINIUM COLLAPSES; AT LEAST 9 KILLED.
Cocoa Beach, Fla. -- A five-story waterfront condominium collapsed "like a house of cards" Friday, killing nine workers and leaving five missing -- and one trapped alive under a heavy pile of debris, authorities said. Dozens were injured.
"The earth shook and there was a big gust of dust," said Gary Whittaker, a reporter in WFTV-Orlando's office across the street from the Harbor Cay construction site in this Atlantic Coast resort town just south of Cape Canaveral. "It's all flat, except for about three stories of one elevator shaft."
Hundreds of rescue workers dug frantically, some with gloved hands and others with shovels, to try to free a trapped worker whose cries for help had been heard seven hours after the collapse.
But at 11 p.m., Fire Chief Robert Walker reported "they haven't had voice contact with him in the last hour or hour and a half."
The rescue workers did not give up hope, however, working under floodlights, four cranes lifted away huge chunks of concrete and dumped them on Air Force trucks.
Thousands of spectators clustered around the site as Air Force bulldozers and Brevard County front-end loaders pushed away rubble so volunteers could search for the missing trapped under the chunks of cement, steel rods and crushed girders.
Walker said five bodies had been recovered and that the locations of four more bodies had been pinpointed under piles of rubble. The crowd grew hushed after officials announced that sound-detection devices were being used to locate victims.
Witnesses said 50 to 60 workers were on the project -- about a dozen of them on the roof -- when the accident occurred about 3 p.m.
Two bodies carried out at about 7 p.m. had been buried in some 20 feet of debris.
Utility trucks erected makeshift light poles as darkness neared.
"Five thousand tons of bricks fell on you and there's not much chance. It's horrible," said Dr. Richard Weber, treating injured at the scene.
"It's a complete disaster, five stories of cement, one stacked on top of another," said Hugh Flynn, desk manager at the Serv-Ur-Self Motel near the accident scene.
"I was watching it pour when the floor just gave out from under me," said MIKE HOCKO, a foreman on the concrete-pouring crew working at the top of the five-story building.
"I was overseeing several concrete finishers who went down with me," HOCKO said.
"I rode one of the (concrete) forms down all the way. Then I picked myself up and started helping the others."
Bill Straub, a city of Cocoa Beach building inspector, said the collapse was triggered when the crane dropped the bucket as workmen were pouring the last sections of the roof.
Straub explained that "wet concrete is twice as heavy as dry. If one bucket goes through, the whole thing can go like a house of cards."
The Harbor Cay building -- owned by Univel of Cocoa Beach, which has built 10 major projects in Brevard County -- was being erected overlooking the Banana River on the west side of Florida A1A, the busy highway that winds along the ocean. Police closed all major roads leading into the area, and said traffic was tied up for miles.
"They had just started putting the brick on for the outside walls," Flynn said. "No doors, no nothing, in other words it's the kind of building that you can look straight through."
Fran Biagi, a dispatcher for Brevard County emergency units, said at least four people were known dead in the accident.
"We're sending every possible unit we can get out hands on over there. Right now, it's a mass of confusion," she said.
Ms. Biagi said paramedics on the scene said the bodies of the victims were taken to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne.
Hospital officials said preliminary counts showed 12 people undergoing treatment at Cape Canaveral Hospital, seven at Wuesthoff Memorial Hospital in Rockledge and an undetermined number at the Holmes Center and the Patrick Air Force Base Hospital.
Most of the injuries were described as fractures and severe lacerations.
Spokeswoman Nancy Rock at Cape Canaveral Hospital said the facility was told to expect at least 50 casualties.
In Washington, Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan dispatched Thorne Auchter, assistant secretary of occupational safety and health, to the scene for personal inspection. Auchter is a former Florida building contractor.
Killed in the collapse were:
MICHAEL CRESSE, 24, of Cocoa Beach.
DAVID DICKERSON, JR., 30, of Cocoa.
RANDOLPH WILLIAM DUNN, 29, of Cape Canaveral.
LARRY HAYES, 25, of Cocoa.
LEROY HUDSON, 35, of Rockledge.
JOHN JOSEPH MANG, JR., 26, of Cocoa.
EARL STANLEY McNEIL, 24, of Cocoa.
LOT C. MITCHUM, 40, of Merritt Island.
DARRELL NOWAKOWSKI, 22, of Cocoa Beach.
Gazette Cedar Rapids Iowa 1981-03-28