Chattanooga firefighters were called to the 300 block of Martin Luther King Boulevard around 8 a.m. Thursday when a one-story brick building collapsed.
Residents in an apartment building next door told firefighters that they heard a loud noise around 5:30 a.m., but it was dark and, when they looked outside, they didn’t see anything. Then around 8 a.m. one of the residents went outside and saw that the building next door had almost completely collapsed. Unfortunately, two cars belonging to two of the residents were crushed by the falling debris.
As a safety precaution, Battalion Chief Rodney Jones ordered a two-block area to be shut down on MLK Boulevard, from Douglas Street to Houston Street. The apartments in the adjacent building were evacuated, and a couple of businesses were also ordered to evacuate.
Residents in the area said the building was a nightclub at one point, but it has reportedly been vacant for years. In an effort to ascertain whether or not anyone might have been inside the structure, the fire department’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team was called in. Using special cameras designed to probe through fallen debris, Chief Jones said the firefighters found no signs that anyone was inside at the time of the collapse.
Tactical Services Chief Danny Hague determined that the remaining walls that were left standing need to be removed, so a city public works track-hoe was brought in to pull down the walls and render the scene safe. That effort was delayed for a couple of hours while utility crews tried to locate and shut off the gas service to the old building. Once the gas was shut off, demolition work began again, but was stopped when two barrels were found. One of the barrels was full and marked as a corrosive material. So Chief Hague called in a cleanup company to remove the two barrels so that they could be disposed of properly.
The demolition work was to continue before city building inspectors can inspect the scene to make sure it is safe, requiring the continuing closure of MLK Boulevard from King to Houston streets.
The facade of the building did not fall so the collapse was not evident from the front.
Gary Ball of Tower Construction Company said he had bought the building from the MLK Development Corporation.
He said, "We had just not gotten around to fixing it up."
The building is next to Liberty Bonding Company on the south side of MLK Boulevard.
The building had been successfully demolished by a city public works track-hoe by late Thursday afternoon. Chattanooga Building Inspector Dallas Rucker cleared the adjacent buildings for occupancy.
The cause of the building collapse will be investigated by the building inspection office.
Martin Luther King Boulevard was reopened at 6:50 p.m.
- Photo2 by Paul Bobenhausen