The parking garage of a hospital collapsed on Wednesday in Jacksonville, Florida, trapping over 100 cars belonging to hospital staff and patients. Nobody was hurt in the partial collapse, but car owners were told their vehicles will stay in the parking garage pending a full investigation by engineers, according to WJXT. Just when that’s going to happen is unclear, however, and the unlucky owners are now being told their cars are indefinitely stuck.
The cause of the structural failure at the garage of Ascension St. Vincent’s in Riverside is still unknown. A forensic engineer who spoke with WJXT says the possible causes include “fastener failure, water damage, defective concrete installation initially, undersize rebar compared to the building plans, excessive loads on structure, and wind damage,” which is all to say, it could basically be anything for all we know.
A representative with the hospital that owns the garage refused to answer any questions until the investigation proceeds, and first responders could only provide details about the rescue operation that followed in the aftermath. But this was less of a rescue than a sweep for anyone still inside the structure at the time of the partial collapse. The operation entailed evacuating a few people who were at the stairwells when the third floor of the garage partially caved in.
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Powers explained how the fire fighters sent in drones to survey the scene to make sure the structure would be safe to enter. It wasn’t so for members of the public, but first responders scrambled to get the few people out. Even though the collapse occurred at the highest level of the parking garage, the entire building was deemed unsafe — as well as two adjacent buildings that were condemned immediately after the incident.
City officials worried that the structure would deteriorate further, and that it would take the adjacent structures down with it, so everyone was evacuated. Local police claim there are approximately 111 vehicles inside of the parking garage. Not all of these cars are on the third floor, but Chief Powers suggested that it’s not safe enough to go in and pull out the cars that were unharmed, which seems to be most of them.
As of now, vehicle owners are not free to enter the premises and take their vehicles or belongings. Local police said they used drones to identify all of the tags on the trapped cars to notify their owners. I’m sure, however, that owners were acutely aware of their vehicles being stuck inside of a crumbling building. And to think, some of those people were patients who had gone to the hospital that day or health care workers who’ve lately had to deal with...a lot.
It’s unclear who is to blame in the incident, or who will bear the financial burden of making those car owners whole if their cars are unable to be rescued. The hospital is not accepting liability yet, and the construction company says the building owner is responsible for everything after completion of the project. The City of Jacksonville agrees, adding that the property owner is responsible for maintaining the building and keeping up with routine safety inspections.
The company that built the parking garage, Batson-Cook, reportedly had another parking garage collapse two years ago, according to a reporter at the press briefing following the collapse. But Batson-Cook is adamant that sole responsibility rests on the property owner.