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14th survivor pulled from rubble of collapse

Thursday - 6/6/2013, 2:48am  ET

This photo provided by Russell Krause shows the scene of a building collapse on the edge of downtown Philadelphia on Wednesday June 5, 2013. The four-story building being demolished collapsed, injuring 12 people and trapping two others, the fire commissioner said. Rescue crews were trying to extricate the two people who were trapped, city Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said. The dozen people who were injured were taken to hospitals with minor injuries, he said.(AP Photo/Russell Krause)

KATHY MATHESON
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Searchers combing through the debris of a collapsed building and the remains of a damaged Salvation Army thrift store pulled another survivor from the rubble late Wednesday, a glimmer of hope after officials said at least six people had been killed.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Coyne said early Thursday that 61-year-old Myra Plekam was pulled -- alert and talking to her rescuers -- before she was put in an ambulance and taken to a nearby hospital, where she was in critical condition.

She was the 14th survivor of the 10:45 a.m. accident.

It was a quick burst of joy and optimism among the numerous firefighters, police and others slowly and steadily digging through the debris that burst forth when a building that was being torn down collapsed with a thunderous boom Wednesday, raining bricks on the thrift store.

Earlier, a somber Mayor Michael Nutter said those who died were one man and five women but authorities still didn't know how many people had been in the store or on the sidewalk when the accident happened.

Early reports had been that one woman had died in the building collapse, but rescuers using buckets and their bare hands to move bricks and rubble kept working through the evening, removing body bags at night. Nutter said the city's emergency workers had been "diligent, determined, focused" in their rescue efforts.

"If anyone else is in that building, they will find them," he said.

City fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said the first survivor found, a woman, was pulled from the rubble of the Salvation Army thrift store two hours after the collapse when rescuers heard her voice. He said rescuers were prepared to dig through the rubble all night looking for victims and survivors.

"It's a dangerous environment for our members, firefighters, our paramedics -- we're going to take our time," Ayers said.

Survivors were taken to hospitals with mostly minor injuries, and some had been treated and released by evening.

Officials from the Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration were at the scene.

The collapse involved an empty building that once housed a first-floor sandwich shop and apartments above. The thrift shop was on one side. The other side was an adult bookstore and theater that had been taken down within the last few months.

Several witnesses said they had been casting a wary eye on the demolition site and questioned how the workers were tackling the job. That raised questions about how closely the highly visible spot on Market Street, one of Philadelphia's signature boulevards, was being monitored.

Roofer Patrick Glynn said he had been watching workers take down the doomed building over the past few weeks, and he said he suspected a collapse was inevitable because of the methods the workers were using.

"For weeks they've been standing on the edge, knocking bricks off," he said. "You could just see it was ready to go at any time. I knew it was going to happen."

Glynn and Anthony Soli were working on a roof atop a nearby building when they heard what sounded like two loud bangs or explosions. They immediately ran down the scaffolding and helped pull out two women and a man.

Steve Cramer, who has been working as a window washer across the street for several days, said the demolition crew left 30 feet of a dividing wall up with no braces and it compromised the integrity of the building

"We've been calling it for the past week -- it's going to fall, it's going to fall," his co-worker Dan Gillis said.

There were no existing violations on the building and the demolition company had proper permits for the work they were doing, according to Carlton Williams, of the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections.

The city issued a demolition permit for the four-story structure on Feb. 1. City officials said the property owner was STB Investments Corp.; messages left at the company's New York offices and a local agent's number after business hours Wednesday were not immediately returned. Officials said the contractor was Griffin Campbell Construction in Philadelphia; a message left at a number provided for the firm was not immediately returned.

A demolition expert wondered what precautions were taken to protect the Salvation Army store, especially since it remained open. Stephen Estrin, a Florida contractor who has testified as an expert at several trials involving building collapses, also questioned whether the demolition was being done by hand or with machinery. A piece of equipment with a claw device was seen amid the debris Wednesday.

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