Snow Causes Roof and Building Collapses in Chicago

Reports of roof and building collapses started sporadically but soon snowballed into an avalanche of property destruction.
(Chicago Fire Department photo, Twitter)

Over 25 collapses in the city according
to the fire chief

Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, Chicago Tribune

(MCT)

Much like the very snow that prompted the problem, reports of roof and building collapses started sporadically but soon snowballed into an avalanche of property destruction, financial woes and loss of life.

By the time at least two more buildings fell in Chicago early Monday, city officials estimated nearly a building a day had crumbled under the weight of the snow in approximately the past four weeks since the season’s first significant storm Jan. 25-26. Chicago fire Chief Frank Velez said the last time he counted, there had been 19 buildings damaged in some form from the snow, which included everything from garages to large warehouses and damage ranging from partial roof collapses to entire buildings being razed.

“It’s at least 20. Right now though it’s probably closer to 25 or 30 buildings,” Velez said during a Monday morning interview, after two more buildings came down.

Fire crews were called to the 500 block of West 44th Street in the Canaryville neighborhood just after 3:20 a.m., according to Mimi Simon, a spokeswoman for Chicago’s Department of Buildings. Details about the extent of the damage were not immediately available.

Then, just before 7 a.m., crews were called out to a partial building collapse at 8512 S. Commercial Ave. in the South Chicago neighborhood, Simon said. A Tribune photographer recorded the address as 8520 S. Commercial Ave. and Velez said there had been some confusion about the address of the call with at least one report it was a building on South Exchange Avenue because fallen bricks from the building also spilled into the alley between Exchange and Commercial avenues.

“An inspection determined the collapse at this vacant building was due to the failure of the bow truss roof system. The building is set for emergency demolition,” Simon wrote in an email, although it wasn’t clear when that demolition was slated to begin.

The Tribune reported on issues with older bow truss buildings in a Feb. 14 article that linked four collapsed buildings, two in Elgin and two in Chicago, to the weight of recent snowfall.

Both of the collapsed buildings in Elgin had bowstring truss roof systems, said Richard Carter, operations chief with the Elgin Fire Department. The style is common in older buildings with wide-open spaces, and is marked by an arched roof and, notably, a lack of support columns in the middle.

Chicago buildings commissioner Matt Beaudet also said the building collapse calls the city had been responding to at that point were “primarily the bow truss roofs, which are a lot older.” He also said many of those buildings had been vacant.

Velez said many years there are no buildings that crumble as a result of snow. The most he can remember in a year is two.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had multiple collapses, it’s been quite a few years,” he said. “We’ve had maybe one or two here and there but not to this magnitude. I can’t remember any year we’ve had anything close to this number.”

Aside from the financial implications of the city response and the property owners, in one recent instance, a man was killed Wednesday when an awning he had been standing under collapsed under the weight of the snow.

Randy Pate Sr., 54, and a 59-year-old man had been standing in a designated smoking area outside Club Hawthorne Corliss, an off-track betting business in the 11200 block of South Corliss Avenue in Pullman when the awning above them gave way, according to police. Pate was killed and the 59-year-old had to be treated for serious injuries, officials said.

At that point, it had snowed more than 40 inches in 23 days, according to meteorologist Todd Kluber of the National Weather Service. Chicago typically gets about 36 inches of snow in a season, meaning 4 more inches of snow fell in about three weeks than in an average year, he said.

Meteorologists were calling for a high in the low 40s both Monday and Tuesday. And while there is snow in the forecast again for next weekend, the weather service said they expect a portion of the existing snow to melt before then. Velez said he’s hopeful the warming weather will at least slow the pace of the calls for roof collapses, or put an end to the destruction entirely.

“Hopefully this will be the end of it, it’s supposed to warm up,” Velez said. “Something’s got to give.”

Check back for updates.

kdouglas@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @312BreakingNews

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