Rescue attempt continues at Cheverly warehouse

June 30, 2012

by Joe Stephens

An estimated 125 rescue workers dug methodically through a three-story jumble of paper in Cheverly on Saturday, racing to locate a warehouse worker believed trapped in a freakish accident two days earlier.

Prince George’s County rescue crews, aided by teams of dogs and five construction cranes, vowed to labor round-the-clock if necessary. They stressed that the triple-digit heat and the scale of the collapse made speed essential.

“It’s important for all the rescue workers to keep the thought process that we are attempting to rescue someone,” said Mark Brady, a fire department spokesman.

The 40,000-square-foot warehouse — used by a document-management company known as Recall — contained shelves of used paper rising nearly 50 feet. About 10 p.m. Thursday, a worker bumped a forklift into a shelf and set off a chain reaction, Brady said.

Shelf after shelf collapsed, eventually knocking out a support beam. The walls buckled, and the roof came down. More than a dozen workers fled, but as the dust settled one Prince George’s resident remained unaccounted for.

Since the warehouse collapse, in the 1500 block of Cabin Branch Drive, an elaborate tent encampment has sprung up around the wreckage. On Saturday, workers scraped away eight feet of boxes, papers and roofing materials, then scoured the area with dogs to see if they might detect the scent of the missing worker.

Meanwhile, the unidentified man’s car remained in the parking lot, Brady said, and his wife and other relatives waited anxiously nearby.

“We’re 99.9 percent sure we do have someone trapped in this debris,” Brady said. “With this high heat, and with the amount of destruction I’m seeing here, the potential for someone to have sustained fatal injuries is very high. But we need to keep the hope of the workers up. This is a rescue effort.”

Rescuers worked in shifts. They rotated through a paramedic station where their vital signs were checked and spent time in a cooling tent before rotating back to the scene of the collapse.

Joe Stephens joined The Washington Post in 1999 and specializes in in-depth enterprise reporting.
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