No one is believed to have been hurt when the third story of a parking garage partially collapsed at the Ascension St. Vincent’s Hospital campus in Riverside Tuesday shortly after noon.
The collapse, as well as the fire and police investigation afterward, closed off a large part of the neighborhood as rescuers made sure no one was trapped inside the garage or hurt.
The third level partially collapsed at around 12:14 in the afternoon, according to Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Powers.
Initially, people in the stairwells of the garage needed to be escorted out before police dogs and drones could start the search for potential survivors. Powers said the structure is not safe at this time and crews need to remove debris and structural engineers need to inspect it before it can be used.
The parking garage that partially collapsed is located on King Street near St. Johns Avenue, and two buildings connected to the structure are also condemned. Chief Powers said the concern is the garage could have an additional collapse that would damage either one of the two buildings.
“To keep those people safe, we’re going to keep people out until the building owner can get a structural engineer out here and they can do something with the collapsed part of that building,” Powers said.
The condemned building on the north end of the parking garage is a doctor’s office at King Street and St. Johns Avenue. The one on the south end is a residential facility related to St. Vincent’s.
Powers said it’s not clear how soon people will be allowed to return to the offices and residential facility.
The incident came as a surprise to people in the area. Witness Jeffrey Whitman said he was at a doctor’s appointment next door at the time of the collapse.
“I was checking in with the receptionist when I heard a loud boom and the building shook,” Whitmore said. When he ran outside, he said he could see that the upper level of the garage had collapsed.
“There were some overturned cars, but we couldn’t see what was underneath because the third floor was on top of it,” he said.
As of Tuesday night, it was unclear what caused this incident, but Powers said it was some type of “structural failure.” Officials are promising a full investigation.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said they counted 111 vehicles that are, for the moment, stuck in the parking garage. It’s unknown when people will be able to retrieve them. JSO said structural engineers will be the ones to decide when that can happen.
The incident brings back haunting memories of the deadly 2007 collapse of a parking garage at the unfinished Berkman II condo tower in Downtown Jacksonville. That collapse killed a worker at the now demolished residential building and injured several others. Chief Keith Powers said Tuesday’s partial collapse was luckily a different situation.
“Berkman was a much, much larger and more catastrophic collapse,” he said. “This is kind of isolated into a smaller area than was what it was at Berkman.”
The St. Vincent’s emergency room remained operational, though its main entrance was closed as the cleanup and investigation get underway. Ascension St. Vincent’s spokesman Gary Nevolis said the hospital was accepting patients through a separate entrance and escorting them to the ER.
Police had re-opened all of the roads around the hospital by late Tuesday afternoon, except for the immediate vicinity of the garage at King Street and St. Johns Avenue.