JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A structural engineer is expected to be on-site Wednesday to investigate a partial collapse of a parking garage at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside hospital.
Sections of the top floor of the three-story parking garage collapsed around 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, damaging multiple cars and leaving others precariously tilted on the edge of the collapse.
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Firefighters evacuated the area, including the buildings next to the garage, and then spent hours searching the garage to see if anyone was trapped in the structure or in one of the 112 vehicles parked inside. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said they used K9s and drones to survey the damage and track down tags of cars parked inside so they could account for the owners.
Multiple cars could be seen under the partial pancake collapse at 1824 King St. JFRD Chief Keith Powers said there are a couple of vehicles in the garage that were “mashed pretty flat” and the structure is not safe to enter. First responders remained on scene overnight.
Powers said he is “pretty confident” that everyone is safe, but added that he can’t say for sure that everyone is accounted for. No injuries had been reported as of Tuesday night.
Sky4 aerials from the scene showed at least one vehicle overturned on its side and another vehicle on the third floor tilted precariously on the edge of the collapsed section.
Witnesses reported hearing a loud “boom!” and said the buildings next to the garage shook, sending many of them outside to find out what happened.
“You only had one row of cars against the building and then just a drop-off where the drive lane is below. Everything dropped down,” one witness said.
WATCH: Video below shows close-up shortly after parking garage collapse
Because the garage has been deemed structurally unsafe, the buildings on either side are also temporarily condemned over concerns that the garage could collapse further.
“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,” he said. “That is a very unstable parking garage right now. And we had some men and women from JSO and JFRD that really put themselves in harm’s way to make sure that people were safe and I just got to say thank you to both of those teams.”
The engineering inspection is expected to begin Wednesday as investigators work to learn why the garage suddenly collapsed.
“Obviously we’re very early into this, and there will be a full investigation done. There’ll be engineers brought out to look at that, but right now there’s nobody prepared to say what happened. Some kind of structural failure, but we don’t know what,” Powers said.
Based on how Jacksonville’s codes are written, the city does not inspect parking garages -- those inspections are the responsibility of the owner. In the case of the Ascension St. Vincent’s garage, Powers said the hospital is still trying to track down paperwork that lists the last time the structure was inspected.
REPLAY: Press play below to watch the full news conference after the garage collapse
News4JAX did some digging and found permits indicating the Batson-Cook company was responsible for the garage’s construction. In 2020, six workers were trapped following a partial collapse at one of the company’s projects in Atlanta, but in that case, the garage was still under construction.
News4JAX also found on the city of Jacksonville website a complaint from 2021 involving one of the garages on the campus.
“This building constantly has water leaks for years. At any given time there are several leaks, which makes me question the structural equipment. What’s stopping this from being the next collapse? Also, the Dillon parking garage should be inspected as well. This remained operational with what looked like braces in a weak area over a long period time,” the complaint stated.
It’s unclear whether that complaint was about issues near where the collapse happened or on other parts of the Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside campus.
COJ listed that issue as “Closed.”
The hospital issued a statement on Facebook:
“As you may be aware, the third level of the Chartrand Building parking garage at Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside collapsed onto the second level. Representatives from the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office conducted a thorough investigation of the parking garage, and they believe no injuries occurred.
The Cardiology and Podiatry clinics located at 1824 King Street will be closed until further notice. The office will reach out to patients to reschedule their appointments at one of our other Ascension clinics. In addition, all other services at this location will also be closed until further notice.
The investigation is ongoing and we will provide more details at the appropriate time.”
That investigation could take weeks or maybe even months, and there is no timeline for when people will be able to get their cars out of the garage, which also impacts parking for the hospital.
Those with cars in the garage could be going a long time without transportation, while still making payments on a vehicle they don’t have. That means the legal wrangling over the collapse will not wait until all of the investigations are wrapped up.
Figuring out who is responsible for the collapse will take time, but Gene Nichols, a veteran Jacksonville attorney, said covering the costs for the damaged vehicles will likely be handled by insurance very quickly.
“We have to deal with people who lost their cars or lost use of their cars. I am sure that just about everybody parked in the garage is going to have a difficult time getting out even for cars that weren’t damaged,” he said. “Cars that were damaged, clearly St. Vincent’s is going to cover the total loss of the car for sure and any other property in the cars.”
Nichols said it’s also important to determine quickly if any businesses have been affected by the collapse.
“What everybody’s going to address is what caused this? How long is this garage going to be shut down?” Nichols said.
Nichols brought up a few other comparable stories. First, there was the Berkman II garage collapse in 2007 where a person died. He also brought up the Surfside Condo collapse in South Florida and said water damage played a role.
Mark Keister, a Jacksonville structural engineer who helped after the Berkman garage collapse, explained that garages that are more than three stories get what are called threshold inspections either by the city of Jacksonville or by inspectors hired by companies.
Another engineer who spoke to News4JAX said the inspection will involve looking at the concrete used in the parking garage.
“Concrete cracks,” said Norma Jean Mattei, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “It’s the nature of the material. So the reinforcing steel is embedded. It’s the rebar. Concrete gives it a protection against fire and corrosion. But once the concrete cracks if there is water that can get to the reinforcement, then you can have the reinforcing corrode.”