Report: Raleigh building collapsed in wind because it was structurally incomplete

jprice@newsobserver.comJanuary 23, 2014 

Ed Braz, professional wildlife photographer, captured video of a building under construction collapsing in high winds when a severe storm passed through the Raleigh area Saturday afternoon, January 11, 2014.

THE NEWS & OBSERVER

— The collapse of four units in an unfinished condominium building near Raleigh-Durham International Airport earlier this month was caused by key structural walls not being finished when the record-breaking wind storm hit, according to an engineering report commissioned by the builder and received by the city of Raleigh on Thursday.

The sideways slump and then fall of the building in the Brier Creek subdivision was captured in a now-viral Internet video by a resident of a neighboring home.

After reviewing the report, Raleigh’s building inspections department is convinced that the construction company didn’t do anything improper, said Curt Willis, a deputy inspections director.

“At this point, we’re done,” said Willis. “They’ve done an exhaustive on-site damage assessment, and we’re satisfied with it.”

In short, there was nothing that was required that hadn’t been done, and no violations of the building code.

“It boils down to the fact that they were in the very early stages of construction, and there’s just not much you can do about an act of nature like that,” Willis said.

The report also confirmed what Willis himself saw when he was called out to the site on Jan. 11, the day that the building fell, he said.

It also jibed with a news release that the builder, Toll Brothers, put out two days after the collapse.

The video was shot by professional wildlife photographer Ed Braz, appeared on The Weather Channel, weather.com, YouTube, and local news websites including Newsobserver.com. It spurred a host of comments on various websites, many of them snide digs at the quality of the construction.

But the company has completed several other buildings surrounding the one that fell, and none suffered more than minor cosmetic damage. Also, a portion of the same structure that was further along remained standing and suffered only minor damage. That section had structural walls skinned on both sides, making them substantially stronger, and it had windows in place.

Construction and wind damage experts interviewed by The News & Observer shortly after the collapse said the lack of windows likely allowed the wind to get in and rush all the way through the building against the far walls hard enough to help bring it down.

The winds, generated by a particularly violent line of storms ahead of a cold front, were among the highest ever recorded in the Triangle. A gust at the airport was measured at 86 mph, close to the 90 mph standard that completed buildings have to meet on that side of the Triangle.

The section of building that fell needed skins on both sides of key structural walls, Willis said. But the workers hadn’t gotten that far. Indeed, they had only put up the roofing joists a couple of days earlier.

According to the engineering report on the collapse, key structural walls were only skinned on one side to allow eventual inspection of insulation and framing.

If the workers had just three or four more days of work in it, the structure might have been strong enough to stand up to the wind, Willis said.

Price: 919-829-4526

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