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Another building collapse: 'The whole jawn came down'

Philly crumbling faster than L&I can react. Strawberry Mansion building collapse is at least the fifth in the past month.

This building in Strawberry Mansion partially collapsed Monday night. (William Bender/Staff)
This building in Strawberry Mansion partially collapsed Monday night. (William Bender/Staff)Read more

THE DEPARTMENT of Licenses and Inspections said yesterday that no injuries were reported in Monday night's rowhouse collapse in Strawberry Mansion - at least the fifth building collapse in Philadelphia in the past month.

That was news to Pele Lewis, whose left arm is in a sling.

Lewis, 38, said he was on the corner of Myrtlewood and Oakdale streets about 9 p.m. Monday when the abandoned building's wall gave way. He said debris struck his shoulder.

"The whole jawn came down," said Lewis, who was taken to Temple University Hospital after the collapse.

Fire Department Capt. Clifford Gilliam said two women and a man were displaced from a neighboring property as a result of the collapse, and confirmed that a fourth person was taken to the hospital. The Red Cross is assisting two of those displaced.

"It sounded like an earthquake," said Mary Felder, who's lived on the block about 25 years.

The corner of narrow Myrtlewood and Oakdale streets is a gathering place for neighborhood residents. Yesterday, children were playing football there.

"The kids were playing there two hours before it collapsed," Felder said. "It could have been much worse."

The falling debris from the collapse also smashed a car on the block.

L&I spokeswoman Rebecca Swanson said the department did not receive any reports of injuries tied to the collapse. If Lewis was injured, she said, he could have been taken to the hospital before L&I arrived at the scene.

Swanson said L&I received a complaint about the rowhouse as far back as July 2006, and the property was later cleaned and sealed. On Friday, the department received a dangerous-building complaint.

An inspection was scheduled for this week, she said.

"The property owner is responsible for maintaining the building under the Philadelphia Property Maintenance [Code] and clearly failed to do so here," Swanson said. "We believe that this, along with the age of the building and the recent extreme weather conditions, was a factor in the deterioration of the building."

Felder said she had called 3-1-1 about the building several times.

"It's been empty for like 15 years. Last year, parts of the roof flew off and landed across the street," she said. "There's another building down the block that's about to pop."

At least seven building collapses have made headlines in Philadelphia since the June 5 Market Street catastrophe that left six people dead and injured 13. Swanson said last week that the department cannot say how many other buildings have collapsed in recent years because incident descriptions are stored in a nonsearchable, nonretrievable database. L&I plans to have a new database operational by the end of 2015.

L&I's Emergency Services Unit will receive 15 new inspectors in the next budget cycle. It also expects to receive additional funding to demolish more buildings before they collapse.

"With our current resources, we cannot afford to demolish all dangerous buildings," Swanson said.

Felder said the city needs to pump more money into L&I or find a way to hold property owners accountable, because buildings are crumbling faster than the department can react. In neighborhoods like Strawberry Mansion, it's only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or killed, she said.

"If there's a problem, you got to address it as soon as possible," Felder said. "If people ain't got the money to fix things up, what are you going to do, just let it sit there?"