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‘Not safe yet’ to remove bodies in Houston building after stairwell collapse, officials say

HOUSTON – Members of the Houston Fire Department’s elite rescue team said Monday night it was not safe yet to remove the bodies of three construction workers who were killed when 13 floors of concrete staircases collapsed.

After the team rescued a construction worker from the collapse earlier in the day, team members stood by as engineers checked the stability of the perimeter of the collapsed stairwell.

A few team members will stand by overnight into Tuesday as construction workers cut holes in the roof of the 15-story future Houston headquarters for Marathon Oil, an HFD captain said.

The plan, the captain explained, is to use a crane to remove large portions of the collapsed stairwell through holes in the roof, starting Tuesday. It is unclear when it will be safe to remove the three bodies from the rubble.

The collapse was reported at 1:30 p.m. on Monday at the construction site on Town and Country Boulevard in the area of City Centre near Interstate 10 and Beltway 8.

Houston Fire Department Capt. Ruy Lozano said the “pancake-style” collapse began in the stairwell near the 13th and 14th floor and ended on the first floor.

“Out of nowhere, I hear a loud banging sound. It sounded like a building was collapsing," construction worker Chris Mercado said. "All you see is a bunch of smoke.”

Houston police and crime scene detectives are also investigating, as they do in the case of any fatal industrial accident.

“All we can tell you is that the actual stairwell that collapsed was under construction at the time of (the) collapse,” Lozano said when asked why the collapse happened.

Harvey Builders released this statement to KPRC 2:

"Harvey Builders is working with the Houston Fire Department, our subcontractor East Texas Precast, and Hines, the project’s development manager, to investigate a fatal accident involving the collapse of a stairway on the construction site of the future Houston headquarters of Marathon Oil.

“Construction is an inherently dangerous activity and in recognition of this Harvey and its subcontractors observe very strict protocols on every project. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with each of the families involved during this difficult time.”

City of Houston inspectors conducted a structural inspection last Friday and had planned to conduct another on Monday.

According to Friday’s report: “There are no concerns or complaints or issues with Harvey builders.”


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