FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.-- Two men suffered minor injuries when a four-story parking garage collapsed on the west side of the Broward County Courthouse, according to Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue and county officials.
It happened around 4:15 p.m. Wednesday during the structure's ongoing demolition.
Jerold Short witnessed the collapse while waiting to pick up his wife, who works at the courthouse.
"I know it's not a terrorist attack, but all I could think of was 9/11," he said. "All the dust [was] just like 9/11; the sky got dark."
A thunderous sound could be heard and tremors could be felt inside the courthouse, according to Broward County Chief Judge Peter Weinstein.
"I was in my office, which has a wall adjacent to this area, when I heard a loud boom," he said. "I felt a very loud vibration."
A contractor suffered minor injuries but declined hospital treatment, according to county spokesman Alphonso Jefferson. County staff are assigned to oversee the demolition, he said.
A security guard, who patrols the surrounding streets to keep pedestrians at a safe distance, also was struck by a piece of debris as the west wall buckled on Southeast First Avenue, Battalion Chief Timothy Blank said.
"He was transported to the hospital with minor scrapes," Blank said.
James A. Cummings General Contractors and Miami Wrecking assured fire-rescue officials that everyone was out of the parking garage when it collapsed.
"Numerous times they gave us 100 percent accountability of the contractors that were working here," Blank said.
Crews were on the northeast side of the building when the four floors pancaked and the walls fell inward, he said.
The elevator shaft and stairwells on the southeast corner of the garage were left leaning over the debris pile at a 45-degree angle after the collapse.
"Now our concern is for the courthouse, which is not in very great shape," Weinstein said. "We're going to ask the county to look at it to make sure it's OK." It is still unclear exactly what caused the collapse.
Inspectors with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were expected to join the investigation.
Portions of Southeast Sixth Street and First Avenue were closed Wednesday evening as the contractor and construction crews worked to clear the debris. A light rain was falling at the time of the collapse, which served to settle airborne dust faster than normal.
The structure was referred to as the "judges' garage" because of its proximity to the courthouse, which allowed judges quick and safe access to the building.
The structure was under demolition as part of the new courthouse construction project. Parts of the garage had already been removed, including those that were attached to the central and west sections of the main courthouse at 201 SE Sixth St.
Explosives were not being used in the demolition, county officials said.
The new 20-story, 700,000-square foot courthouse is expected to cost the county $273 million, including construction of a 500-car secure garage for judges and other court personnel. A separate, 1,000-car garage for employees is budgeted at $29.5 million. Construction and related work is expected to employ 800 people.
Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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