Borbor Davis, 68, was an immigrant from Liberia, West Africa, and an employee at a Salvation Army thrift store serving a poor neighborhood near Philadelphia’s main (30th Street) railroad station. Yesterday morning he spoke with his wife on the phone. Fifteen minutes later, a four-story building collapsed onto the store. He and five others died.
NBC10 reported that one elderly woman remains in critical condition Thursday after spending 13 hours in the rubble. Myra Plekam, 61, reached out and grabbed the hand of a firefighter about midnight, making her the 14th person rescued after an inner-city demolition turned fatal.
For weeks, people working nearby had watched with growing concern as a crew took down the vacant building next to the thrift store at the edge of downtown. A roofer atop another building didn’t think the operation looked safe. A pair of window washers across the street spotted an unbraced, 30-foot section of wall and predicted among themselves the whole building would simply fall down. “We’ve been calling it for the past week—it’s going to fall, it’s going to fall,” Dan Gillis said.
Yesterday, that’s what happened. The unstable shell of the building collapsed into a massive heap of bricks and splintered wood, taking part of the thrift store with it. “I heard something go kaboom,” said Veronica Haynes, who was on the fifth floor of an apartment building across the street: “Then you saw the whole side of the wall fall down … onto the other building.”
As a bulldozer cleared away debris today, city officials said the search for the dead and injured was nearly complete, and an investigation was underway to determine how a commonplace job could have gone so wrong. The demolition had proper permits.
Areas around the store can approach 50 percent poverty, according to City Data. The city’s poverty level sits at 25.6 percent, more than twice the state average. Jordon McLaughlin, a student at Science Leadership Academy, told NBC10 that many older people shop at the store: “I went over, put my things down and tried to help people. There were wires and there was a lot of rubble so it was tough to navigate.”
The Salvation Army media center did not respond to WORLD’s calls and emails this morning. The ministry operates nine community centers and five thrift stores in Philadelphia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.