Walkway Collapse Shuts Laurel Mall

Engineers look over rubble of the collapsed pedestrian bridge. A police spokesman said the walkway failed because of rusted bolts and brackets. The mall was closed yesterday, but officials said they expected it to reopen today.
Engineers look over rubble of the collapsed pedestrian bridge. A police spokesman said the walkway failed because of rusted bolts and brackets. The mall was closed yesterday, but officials said they expected it to reopen today. (By Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)

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By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 2, 2005

A pedestrian bridge between the parking and shopping areas at Laurel Mall slammed to the ground Thursday night, forcing the mall to close yesterday, police said. There were no injuries, but the block surrounding the 90-store mall was roped off with yellow caution tape.

The mall is expected to reopen at 10 a.m. today, said Sherrie Little, marketing manager and spokeswoman for the mall.

The concrete, 50-foot long walkway collapsed at 11:15 p.m., less than an hour after the mall closed Thursday. It fell on top of a box truck, demolishing it.

"If it happened two hours earlier, it would have been a different outcome," said Jim Collins, a spokesman for Laurel police.

The bridge, which connects the second story of the parking garage to the stores, was attached by large metal bolts and brackets, which had corroded, Collins said.

"They rusted, corroded and failed," Collins said. "It was metal fatigue."

The bridge fell on the Fourth Street side of the mall, between the entrances of the Hecht's department store and International Furniture Liquidators.

Collins said the rest of the mall's outdoor walkways have been examined by structural engineers and deemed to be safe.

The bridge that collapsed is part of the original mall, which opened in 1979. Collins said the garages are inspected regularly, although he did not know how often.

The affected area of the parking deck, which includes about 500 spaces, will remain closed for several weeks, even after the mall reopens, Collins said. When the bridge collapsed, it knocked out electricity in the garage, making it unsafe for use until repairs are made.

Little said the mall remained closed yesterday as a precaution.

"Our first concern is safety," Little said. "We want to make sure everything is secure."

She said employees at two formalwear shops were able to get into their stores yesterday to grab bridesmaids dresses and tuxedoes for weekend weddings.

"Can you imagine those brides?" she said. "They must have been in a panic."

The area around the mall was mostly desolate yesterday. Small groups of engineers tested bridges and walkways. A few would-be shoppers came by, as well.

"The mall isn't open?" Malgarita Chavarit asked in Spanish as she walked up with her niece Karina, 2, to get the child some chicken for lunch.

When she found out why the mall was closed, her eyes widened, and she shook her head in disapproval. Then she said she was going back to her own kitchen for lunch. "I guess I'll go home and make some eggs," she said.


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