‘Especially concerning’ potential code violations found at site of Amazon warehouse destroyed by tornado

Dive Brief:

  • An engineer has called out alleged safety and structural defects at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois that collapsed during a tornado in December, killing six workers.
  • In the report released by an attorney representing the family of one of the victims, West County EMS and Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Dan Bruno detailed how he entered the site in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Dec. 10, shortly after the tornado struck, and saw what he called “especially concerning” potential code violations. He noted that none of the columns were ripped or torn at the base, suggesting they hadn’t been secured to the foundation to prevent uplift from wind loads.
  • The tornado that ripped through Edwardsville was an EF-3, with wind speeds up to 165 miles per hour. The facility was 1.1 million square feet and employed 190 people across multiple shifts, according to Retail Dive.

Dive Insight:

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said it was too early to definitively determine if the building had structural issues. She said that the building passed its original inspection upon completion in 2018 and a re-inspection in 2020.

“Investigators continue to conduct a comprehensive forensic examination of the building and debris — so it’s premature and misleading to suggest there were any structural issues,” Nantel said in a statement shared with Construction Dive.

Jack Casciato, a partner at Chicago-based Clifford Law Offices and the attorney for the family of Austin McEwen, one of the delivery drivers who was killed, released the report after obtaining it through a Freedom of Information Act request. McEwen’s family is suing Amazon and other defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The report said many of the remaining trusses were not oriented on the building columns that held them, causing the lower chord of the truss to “no longer [be] straddling the knife plate or flat piece of steel that was welded to each side of the column.”

Columns that the trusses were bolted to were pulled up from the foundation, per the report. One worker involved with the walkthrough, Allen Smith, who was with fire marshall Bruno, described it as similar to “a peg coming out of a hole,” an assessment Bruno agreed with.

“After continuing to evaluate the damage, I noted that a considerable number of the columns that … were not standing appeared to have been lifted out of the floor,” Bruno wrote in the report.

OSHA investigating

McEwen and five other workers were killed sheltering in a bathroom in the warehouse as the tornado struck, according to the attorney’s press release. Text messages allegedly show that McEwen was told to continue working even as the storm picked up, according to the release. 

“There is no excuse when it comes to the safety of workers and the lives of those who work at Amazon who were unable to protect themselves,” Casciato said in the release that highlighted the report.

The warehouse was built by Edwardsville, Illinois-based Contegra Construction Co. and developed by St. Louis-based TriStar Properties. Contegra Construction builds a variety of different industrial and commercial structures, such as retail locations and other warehouses. TriStar Properties is a real estate developer in the area. 

TriStar Properties did not return multiple calls for comment. Contegra Construction did not provide a statement in time for publication.

Following the warehouse’s collapse, OSHA opened an investigation into the collapse. The investigation is ongoing.

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