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Probe Underway after Watergate Collapse

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

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Washington, DC—Authorities are still working to determine what caused an underground parking garage to collapse at the well-known Watergate complex.

Two construction workers were injured when three floors of the Washington, D.C., garage pancaked just after 10 a.m. May 1, prompting evacuations and an emergency search-and-rescue effort, according to reports.

The victims were said to have been involved in renovations underway at the 10-acre complex. Neither the workers nor their employers have been identified, but reports said the workers' injuries were non-life-threatening.

DC Fire and EMS / Twitter

Two construction workers were reportedly injured when three floors of the parking garage pancaked just after 10 a.m. May 1 at the Watergate complex. A cause has not been determined.

Dozens of vehicles were also damaged in the collapse, reports note.

Repair, Probe Underway

The collapsed portion of the garage measured 75 to 100 feet, according to officials.

D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is leading the investigation into the incident. An official report is expected within the coming weeks, reports say.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also launched an investigation. An OSHA spokeswoman said that investigation could take up to six months.

Meanwhile, crews are focused on repairing the damage to structure, including flooding from broken pipes, reports say.

Transportation officials said traffic lanes near the structure would be closed for three weeks making way for backhoes, excavators and other large construction vehicles.

Located on the shore of the Potomac River, the Watergate complex is known for the 1972 burglary that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Renovation to Blame?

While investigators seek the cause of the collapse, early speculation has focused on the renovation work at the complex's hotel.

Parking garage collapse
Pete Piringer / Montgomery County Fire

Emergency response crews used dogs to aid in the search-and-rescue effort.

Closed since 2007, the hotel is getting a $125 million facelift, to be complete at the end of summer. Between 200 and 250 workers are onsite each day, according to the project’s developer Euro Capital Properties, of New York.

Residents at the complex have said construction debris and dirt had been placed on the courtyard just above the section of garage roof that gave way.

“I want to wait to see the [official cause] report, but this [collapse] raises the question of how well thought-out this construction was,” Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner William Kennedy Smith, who lives in the complex, told the Washington Post.

Witnesses: Building Shaking

Witnesses said the collapse had caused the building to shake.

“The building shook a little bit, and we saw a sinkhole growing in the courtyard,” Tom Wall of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is headquartered in the complex, told local news outlets.

A tree fell down into the hole, and water sprayed from broken pipes, he said.

“With rubble spilling out,” the area “looked like footage from a war zone,” he said.

Mayor Bowser
D.C. Fire and EMS / Twitter

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (far left) and fire officials held a press conference the day of the collapse.

George Arnstein, who lives in an apartment in the complex, was home when the incident happened.

“It felt like an earthquake,” he told the Washington Post.

“I said, ‘No, it can’t be an earthquake, it’s just another example of the construction noise,’ which has been going on since last August. Then I went out to look and saw a hole—a big hole.”

No Parking

Another resident said he had driven into the parking garage about 15 seconds after the collapse.

“When I came down the ramp into the garage, I noticed that it was darker than normal and it looked very steamy for some reason,” Daniel Sheehan told the Washington Post.

“I thought perhaps they were cleaning the garage,” he said. “As I turned into the corridor where I park my car, I saw about 25 feet in front of me that several floors had collapsed into this truck, and water was coming out from broken waterlines.”

Watergate Hotel Renovation

The renovation project will add meeting spaces, a 7,000-square-foot grand ballroom, rooftop lounge and other amenities to the hotel.

“With a modern reinvention from its scandalous past, the restoration infuses intriguing design within one of the most fascinating hotels in history,” the developer said in a press announcement.

Euro Capital Properties
Euro Capital Properties

The Watergate Hotel is getting a $125 million makeover, set for completion in August. It was unclear whether the collapse would set the project timeline back.

Grunley Construction Company, of Rockville, MD, is the general contractor for the renovation.

Grunley has been inspected by OSHA 20 times in the past five years. Only one of those inspections resulted in a violation and fine.

In October 2013, the company was fined $8,000, later reduced to $1,500, for storage hazards at a job site in D.C.

The company did not respond to a request for comment on the collapse.

A spokeswoman for the hotel has told media outlets that the facility is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.


Tagged categories: Construction; Government; Hazards; Health and safety; Parking Garages

Comment from Paul Braun, (5/12/2015, 8:34 AM)

I blame Nixon

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/13/2015, 8:22 AM)

Must be running a good safety program if they've only had a single infraction after 20(!) OSHA inspections.

Comment from Dennis Guy, (5/13/2015, 10:13 AM)

Ever wonder How many instances ending with "gate" have been generated since the Nixon years??? the latest being "Deflategate."

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