Days before apartments crumbled, repair work started on a building wall that later collapsed. Now officials ask for help with 3 missing men

Just days before part of an Iowa apartment building came crashing down, inspectors noticed a brick façade had separated from the interior wall and appeared “ready to fall imminently,” according to a letter from an engineer.

The engineer said the “brick façade is unlikely to be preserved in place, but it can be brought down in a safe, controlled manner,” the May 24 letter said. The engineer also said the interior wall of the downtown Davenport building appeared to be losing stability and is “causing deformation.”

An engineer reported a brick façade had separated from an interior wall of the building days before the collapse.

A repair permit was issued the same day, according to Davenport city records. And a May 25 site visit confirmed repair work had started.

Just three days later, the same part of the wall that was under repair collapsed, according to a CNN review of photos of the property released by the city.

The disaster crushed apartments in the six-story building and turned residents’ homes into heaps of rubble.

While no deaths have been confirmed, three residents who lived in the collapse zone are still unaccounted for. Davenport officials are now asking the public for any information about Branden Colvin, Ryan Hitchcock and Daniel Prien.

From left: Branden Colvin, Ryan Hitchcock and Daniel Prien

“It is believed that these three individuals have high probability of being home at the time of the partial building collapse at 324 Main Street in Davenport, Iowa on Sunday, May 28 … and their apartments were located in the collapse zone,” Davenport’s city government posted on Facebook.

“If you have specific information that can confirm this or indicate otherwise, please call 563-326-6125.”

City records and permit reveal more clues

This wasn’t the first time the section of wall that ultimately crumbled needed repairs, according to the city’s permit and inspection records.

The renovation underway “was a similar repair” to what was done to the building earlier in the year, Rich Oswald, Davenport’s director of development and neighborhood services, said at a news conference Thursday.

The previous repairs were ordered by the city after it received a complaint February 2 about an unsafe wall at the building from an electric and natural gas company, according to a spreadsheet from the city tallying complaints, inspection and site visit details, and corrective actions taken at the building.

When building inspectors and a private-sector structural engineer arrived at the scene that day, they determined there was “visible dilapidation” on a portion of the western “exterior and interior walls,” the document said.

The initial repair work, according to a construction permit and the spreadsheet, took several months. It was completed May 1.

Weeks later, another inspection revealed problems with the brick façade separating from an interior wall, as noted in the May 24 engineer’s report. In addition to fixing the façade, the structural engineer recommended a steel column be added to support a beam believed to have been bearing down on the affected wall.

City inspectors said brick work had started on the building by May 25, but repair permit notes don't explicity mention whether work on the wall of concern had started.

When city inspectors did another site visit on May 25, they noted brick work had started, according to inspection notes on a permit issued by the city for the work.

There’s no explicit mention of any work on the wall in the permit notes, and it’s not clear at this time whether any work had been done prior to the collapse.

Photos taken May 25 by city inspectors and released by the city appear to show a void formed between the façade and interior wall, and crumbled bricks are seen in the space.

One photo, taken by a city inspector on May 25, shows wood planks leaning up against the building’s western wall.

Davenport city inspectors took photos of the building on May 25, the day after a repair permit was issued and three days before the partial collapse.

A son wants to ‘run in there right now’

Now, as families of those missing agonize and wait, city officials are grappling with how to proceed.

If rescuers try to reenter, the rest of the building could topple and crush them.

“It’s dangerous, and it’s shifting,” Mayor Mike Matson said Thursday.

Plans to demolish the Davenport building – originally scheduled for Tuesday morning – are now on hold.

“We’re not anywhere near doing that right now,” the mayor said. “We are working on a timeline. We are reaching out to experts that have particular expertise in taking it down (in) a dignified and respectful way.”

Branden Colvin Jr. has been sleeping on the pavement outside the partially collapsed building, where his father may be trapped in the rubble.

The 18-year-old should be getting ready for his high school graduation Saturday. But he refuses to leave the scene – even as officials warn the rest of the building could come crashing down at any time.

Worried members of the community have wondered about the fates people unaccounted for after Sunday's partial building collapse.

“If they told me I could, I’ll run in there right now,” Colvin told CNN, fighting back tears. “I haven’t slept. I have been out here three days, at night, all night, just waiting for anything.”

The teen said he’s desperate to hear the voice of his father.

“I love how much he talks. Before, it was annoying. But now, I just miss him,” he said.

The family of Ryan Hitchcock has already accepted the likelihood their loved one is gone and supports the city’s plans to carefully take down the rest of the building to prevent further harm, relative Amy Anderson said.

“Ryan wouldn’t want anyone else to put their lives at risk,” Anderson said at a news conference Tuesday.

“I don’t discount that he could be trapped under there miraculously,” she said. “But we don’t want to see any more families lose their lives or anybody else be injured in trying to remove that rubble and have anything fall.”

After days of using dogs, drones, thermal imaging and other tools, the odds of finding more survivors appear slim.

And the way the building partially collapsed “reduces the chances that there will be spaces – what we call void spaces – large spaces where people can survive,” said Larry Sandhaas, a structural engineer hired by the city to assess the building.

Colvin’s family hasn’t given up and urged officials to keep searching.

“You know there are people still unaccounted for, but you want to tear down the building. What sense does that make?” Colvin’s cousin Preston McDowell told CNN. “They’re not giving us any answers. I just don’t get it.”

The missing man’s son said he’s not sure if he’ll be able to walk across the stage at graduation Saturday

“We had finals this week, Tuesday, and I tried to go to school. As soon as I walked in, I just broke down, and I was just crying,” the younger Colvin said. “So, I don’t know if I am going to be able to go to my graduation.”

Investigators probe cause of the collapse

The cause of the collapse has not been determined, but the city plans to turn over documentation including videos, photos and logs to an investigative team, the mayor has said.

The property owner’s insurance representatives and structural engineers visited the site Wednesday to complete an independent structural damage assessment, the city said.

The owner of the building, Andrew Wold, has been cited for failing to maintain the structure in a safe and structurally sound condition, according to a court document filed Tuesday. He faces a $300 fine plus court costs if he is found guilty or doesn’t contest the citation, the document says.

Wold’s court date is set for June 9..

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