As darkness descended on the rubble of the massive building collapse at
22nd and Market streets last night, rescue workers pulled one body after another
from under the pile of brick and concrete, bringing the death toll to six.
Miraculously, a 61-year-old woman was pulled alive out of the rubble more than 12 hours after the collapse late last night. Deputy Fire Chief Robert Coyne said early Thursday that 61-year-old Myra Plekam was awake and talking to rescuers.
Mayor Nutter confirmed the fatalities at a news conference at the scene, saying shortly after 11 p.m. that "this is still an active search and rescue mission."
"We do not know and still do not know how many people were in the building," said Nutter, who noted that 13 people also were hurt with nonlife-threatening injuries.
"If there is anyone else in that building, they will find them," the mayor said of rescue workers. "They will stay here and do this work as long as it takes."
Nutter also stressed the need for privacy for the victims' families, a sentiment exemplified throughout the course of the search.
Shortly after 8 p.m., firefighters held up a yellow tarp to shield one of the bodies from public view as they carried the victim into a waiting ambulance. Over the course of the next couple hours, rescuers pulled several more body bags from the rubble as heavy excavation equipment stood outside the site, waiting for the grim recovery mission to end.
The late-night surge in the death toll also intensified the search for answers as to why a four-story building undergoing demolition suddenly tumbled in midmorning, cascading tons of wreckage onto a Salvation Army thrift shop.
Late last night, information began to dribble out about who may have died in the collapse, including a 35-year-old woman, the first confirmed fatality.
It appeared that one of the victims was the future daughter-in-law of Common Pleas Judge Robert P. Coleman. Last night, a man who did not identify himself came to the door of the judge's Roxborough home and said that family members could not talk of the tragedy.
"They're grieving," he said. "Thank you for your condolences." The judge's son, 27-year-old Bob Coleman, of Roxborough, wrote on his Facebook page that he worked at the Salvation Army and had just gotten engaged to the woman last month in Atlantic City.
Meanwhile, the Inquirer reported last night that a man who worked in basement of the Salvation Army store -- Borbor Davis, 68, of Upper Darby -- had died in the collapse.
It was a devastating end to what had started as a routine workday at the demolition site, as the steady drone of heavy machinery under bright crystal-blue June skies turned to tragedy in a rapid tumble of building material and debris.
The building collapse happened just before 10:45 a.m., forcing some passers-by to sprint for safety down city sidewalks, while others scrambled to pull dazed, bloodied survivors out of the confused jumble of a building that once housed the Hoagie City shop.
The sudden fall touched off a frantic daylong scramble through a dusty tableau of concrete and red bricks for both the living and the dead.
"I thought it was a terrorist attack because I'm originally from New York," Center City resident Ana Laufer said in the chaos immediately afterward.
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