OCTOBER 19, 2016
NEW ORLEANS, LA
A house under construction collapsed Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 19) in the St. Roch neighborhood, injuring two workers who said they leapt out of the house as it began to give way.
Fire crews with the New Orleans Fire Department arrived at the house soon after it collapsed and attended to the two workers, who both suffered minor leg injuries. The workers said they were inside the house when it began collapsing and had just seconds to escape.
"I should be dead right now," said one of the workers, who asked not to be named. "I'm so happy to be alive."
The other worker, Joshua Kruebbe, attributed the collapse to the home's extensive termite damage. His left leg bore a long gash from the collapse, but Kruebbe said he wouldn't be going to a hospital.
"I'm a nihilist," he said. "It was bound to happen at some point."
The workers said they were hired by Drift Design Build and had been working on the house for several months. Jordan Pollard, the owner of Drift Design Build, said the workers had braced a support structure that they thought was solid, but which was eaten away internally by termites.
"What they were bracing to, they didn't realize it was termite damaged," Pollard said. "That's what created a domino effect."
An investigation into the exact cause of the collapse is under investigation, according to mayor's office spokesman Hayne Rainey. In an email, Rainey noted that the city's Department of Safety and Permits conducted an inspection of the building's framing on Sept. 8 and "found the work acceptable."
"After today's collapse, the contractor noted to the City that previously unobserved termite damage to the structure's load-bearing top plates was discovered that was not visible during the City's inspection and additional work had been performed to repair the damage while attempting to brace the roof," Hayne said in an email.
Building permits were approved on Sept. 1 to renovate and convert the shotgun house in September into a single-family residence. Now, to completely rebuild the house, Pollard said he'll need to secure a new permit.
"We already made the foundation solid," he said. "We're going to finish the work."
The house's owner, Zeal Beale, said she hired Drift Design Build to renovate the long-blighted house, which had fallen into disrepair in the years following Hurricane Katrina. Beale said she had owned the house for 18 months.
"A lot of money went into this house," she said at the scene. "It's amazing."
Part of the house had also collapsed on the driver's side of a GMC truck, dislodging a tire. The truck's owner, Reginald Barnes, said he and a crew had been renovating the house next door when Beale's house fell.
"All I heard was boom, boom, boom and I knew it was falling down," Barnes said. "We got lucky because we were about to eat lunch" on the lawn beside the collapsed house.