One construction worker died and another was airlifted to a Baltimore hospital with serious injuries Thursday after a concrete section weighing more than 50,000 pounds collapsed in a parking garage at Westfield Montgomery mall, police and fire officials said.
The injured worker was pinned for four hours and had to be rescued by a crew that used wood and steel beams to brace the collapsed area around him. The rescuers eventually cut concrete and steel to free the worker, according to officials.
Rescue crews were called shortly before 2 p.m., according to Scott Graham, assistant chief of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. One of the men was declared dead during the rescue. Neither was named.
Graham said the effort was hampered because the section the man was pinned under began to move. Rescuers had marked the concrete to monitor any movement, which allowed them to detect that some cracks were widening during the rescue.
“In the middle of the extraction, we did notice some shifting of the concrete,” Graham said.
As a result, they paused the rescue and, with help from structural engineers, altered their approach.
At one point, there were as many as 20 rescue workers in the immediate area of the fallen concrete. One of them was always within three feet of the victim to provide medical care and comfort.
The collapse occurred in a 40-foot area between the second and third levels of a parking garage about 500 feet from Macy’s.
The garage was being renovated, so it was not filled with vehicles at the time. The mall, on Democracy Boulevard, is in the midst of an expansion that includes plans for a 16-screen movie theater.
A yellow construction crane still hovered over the garage, and dozens of firefighters and police were on hand. Graham said that more than 100 rescue personnel were there, among them an urban search-and-rescue team he leads. A part of the mall’s parking areas was cordoned off.
Graham declined to describe the nature of the victims’ injuries. He said union officials were with laborers at the site.
Diane Schwartz Jones, director of Montgomery’s Department of Permitting Services, identified the garage’s contractor as Whiting-Turner, a construction company headquartered in Baltimore County with offices and projects across the country. It was unclear if Whiting-Turner or a subcontractor was working on the area that collapsed.
Jones said her staff was busy Thursday going through the many permits and permit applications associated with the large-scale project, and she could not immediately say whether there had been any problems or citations issued during the construction process.
“We are in rescue mode right now,” she said, referring to firefighters at the scene. “At this point in time, I can’t answer any specific questions other than to say we want to know what happened.”
Once authorities have zeroed in on a possible cause, she said her staff will examine permits connected to that issue. Jones declined to say whether the contractor had been cited or found to be in violation of any orders during the project, saying such information would be premature and irresponsible to comment on right now.
“This project has been around for a long time,” Jones said. “There are a lot of permits for that site.”
An e-mail sent to a Whiting-
Turner spokesman in Baltimore was not responded to Thursday. The company’s Internet site lists dozens of projects across the country, including hospitals, schools and smaller projects such as Reston Square and Rockville Town Square.
In a statement, Westfield Montgomery said its “thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies go out to the victims and their families.”
The mall remained open while the rescue was underway. Shoppers trying to leave the parking lot were hampered by wide stretches of yellow caution tape.
Jennifer Lambert, 39, was shopping in Macy’s during the rescue operation. Lambert knew about the collapse, which had prompted Macy’s officials to close off two entries closest to the garage.
“It’s scary,” she said. “It’s really sad.”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.