One man has been found dead under the rubble of a rooftop parking deck that collapsed into an office space below in East Vancouver on Thursday, sparking a search that stretched over two days.
WorkSafeBC is now investigating what caused the fatal workplace incident, according to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services assistant chief of operations.
But the identity of the victim is not being released as police “make sure the family’s been notified” first, said Brad Hesse in a phone interview.
Roughly 50 personnel were involved in the search operation.
“They did locate the missing person, and unfortunately they were deceased,” he said, adding that the body was found around 5:45 p.m. “The crews worked tremendously hard over a long period of time.
“It was very difficult, anytime you have a structural collapse like that … It’s a very risky situation.”
Fire officials said the collapse happened while a skid-steer loader was working on the roof of the building on Lougheed Highway around 1 p.m. on Thursday. The loader and its driver fell along with the roof, leaving a hole about nine by 12 metres in size.
On Friday, crews zeroed in on a section of rubble after searching for the missing person through the night Thursday, saying they were “fairly confident” a person was in the rubble “based on eyewitness reports and the location of the person’s cell phone,” said Trevor Connelly, another fire department spokesperson, earlier in the evening. “Search dogs on scene identified an area where we could focus our search.”
The Heavy Urban Search and Rescue task force, which specializes in complex industrial rescues, also worked on the search.
Crews carefully sifted through an unstable heap of concrete, dirt, drywall, electrical wires, metal ducting and other rubble. A vacuum truck arrived Friday in an effort to remove debris from the area, Connelly said.
“There was a large pile of dirt on the parking surface area when it collapsed and that large pile of dirt did go into the hole with everything else,” he said. “The work is extremely, painstakingly slow.”
Connelly said debris started to fall from the building in the moments before the collapse, so people inside had a “brief” warning before the roof came down.
Eight people were rescued from a second-floor office space on Thursday. Fire crews brought them out through a window and down a ladder, crews said.
Two of those people were taken to hospital. One of them has been confirmed as the driver of the loader, Connelly said.
An update on their conditions was not immediately available.
Cause of collapse still unclear
Aside from the heavy machinery, crews have no other information on a possible cause, said Karen Fry, chief of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services.
“That’s that we’ve been told, is that they were working on that area and a [skid-steer loader] went through the building,” said Fry.
Engineering expert Caroline Andrewes was at the scene Friday and said incidents like this are exceptionally rare in Canada. In 1996, there was a similar collapse not far from the site of the latest collapse.
“We don’t know a lot about the building at this point,” Andrewes, with the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies B.C., said in an interview.
“We don’t know about the design, construction, maintenance — but it is an older building, and so for sure there is a layer of things that have happened over the years.”