California structural engineer discusses NY Bronx building collapse

The entire corner of the Bronx apartment building gaped open where part of a 47-unit apartment complex collapsed around 3:30 Monday afternoon. 

New York officials said after searching the debris, they were relieved that they did not find any victims in the rubble, after the corner of the seven-floor building came crashing down with people's homes and possessions landing in a giant pile of bricks and debris.

Surveillance video from down the street shows people's startled reactions when the corner of the structure at 1915 Billingsley Terrace collapsed and sent a cloud of dust into the street.

Angel Soto says he has lived there 12 years and was home inside the building.

"The ground was shaking, and we thought it was an earthquake. And I told my mom the ground is shaking, and we opened the door and the supervisor said no, the building's collapsing. You got to get out," said Soto, who managed to escape with this mother and dog.

Firefighters arrived within minutes and rushed to launch an urgent search for anyone who might have been trapped under the rubble.

Rescue crews tunneled into the debris pile and brought in canine units and drones to survey the area, as the rest of the building precariously hung overhead.

"Firefighters right now are in a dangerous position. We don't know what caused this corner of the building to come down, and we don't know if any more will come down, but we're searching for life," said FDNY Chief John Hodgens.

Some seven hours later, rescue crews said they had found no victims. Commissioner Laura Kavanagh called it miraculous.

New York building inspection officials say construction crews had been working at the building to fix violations of the facade law.

"This is a 1927 building, 7 stories," said James Oddo, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), "The owner of this building submitted their most recent report in March of 2021. That report did find unsafe facade conditions, seven of them. Mortar that was deteriorating, cracked bricks."

Oddo noted that facade violations apply to the building's exterior and do not indicate a building's structural integrity.

Emily Guglielmo, President of the Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAC), says engineers will be looking for specific clues to understand the failure.

"Did the foundation or sidewalk move up or move down that could have caused loss of support?" said Guglielmo, "Are there areas of distress or deterioration? Is there any adjacent construction happening, maybe on an adjacent property? Is there any sign of foundation movement? Were there perhaps new loads added in this portion of the structure that could have contributed? Was there construction ongoing perhaps to the facade that could have added to the collapse?"

Guglielmo says the United States has no uniform laws mandating inspections of aging buildings, so it is left to local jurisdiction and building owners.

"Here in the Bay Area we have really great cities that are working to improve the building stock, especially for seismic safety," said Guglielmo, "It's also equally important for a building owner to have some responsibility in the health of their building, to continually look for signs of deterioration and distress."  

Guglielmo says some of those warning signs include cracks in bricks and walls, rotting wood, or rusting metal structures.

Along with the 47 residential units, the Bronx building had six businesses.  

New York officials say it's not clear when people will be able to return.