Man escapes partial roof collapse

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Photos by Millicent Martin Emery

Gary Johnson had to evacuate when the roof on his apartment at 521 N. D St. collapsed. The left half of the building, also owned by Monger Transfer & Storage, was saved.

100-year-old half of building demolished

No one expects bricks to start tumbling from above their apartment onto the street below, especially not at 4 a.m. on a Saturday.
However, upstairs noises began jarring Gary Johnson awake on July 2 at his first-floor residence in Richmond’s Historic Depot District.
Johnson said he occasionally heard sounds, and began wondering if an animal or person had gotten into the building at 521 N. D St. that also is home to part of Monger Transfer & Storage. Johnson said he worked for the Mongers 30 to 40 years ago and has remained friends with the family.
Johnson said the company’s employees are the only ones who go to the upper floor, so no one was expected there so early, especially during the holiday weekend.
He went back to bed and napped, but eventually had to evacuate.
“I sat on my bed, and all of a sudden, it came down,” Johnson said, sharing his experience as he sat in his truck in a parking lot across the street, waiting to learn more about the fate of his home and possessions. “There was a big boom.”
Still not knowing what caused the noise, Johnson decided to get out, leaving through a garage door on the building’s west side.
He learned the loud sounds came from a partial collapse of the bowstring roof at the approximately 40×80 building, sending bricks and debris downward.
“I didn’t see it until I opened the overhead door,” Johnson said. “Then I saw the bricks.”
Richmond fire and police departments were called to the scene just before 9:40 a.m., and one of the firefighters backed Johnson’s truck out of the garage for him.
“I never thought in a million years this side would go down,” Johnson said.
County property records show that Johnson’s side was built in 1920. An ad promoted a grand opening for the east side’s fireproof storage services in 1930.
Johnson, who has lived in the apartment for a little more than 10 years, returned there recently after recovering at Reid Health from surgery and then rehabilitation at a nursing home. He said he still has a hard time walking.
“When I saw bricks everywhere, I thought, ‘I don’t need this right now,’” Johnson said.
The timing of the collapse also posed a challenge for those who quickly had to gather information about insurance coverage and safety conditions as they made decisions about the building’s future, when many workers had already begun holiday vacations.
Firefighters went up on an aerial ladder bucket to better evaluate the damage and gathered images with a drone.
Richmond Street Department shut down access to both ends of North D, normally a busy road with traffic heading to and from the Depot District and the nearby post office, for several hours to protect first responders and passersby from debris while the scene was being evaluated.
Johnson’s apartment not only was across the road from the Purina animal feed factory, it was next door to Crosstown Carry-Out, which was likely expecting one of its busiest days of the year for customers seeking spirits for Independence Day celebrations. City officials temporarily closed the shop because of concerns about Monger’s west wall potentially collapsing on it.
Representatives from Richmond Power & Light and CenterPoint Energy soon arrived to determine what utilities were connected and/or needed to be shut off. Several city employees arrived to evaluate engineering and building concerns, eventually determining that Culy Contracting should take down the west side that afternoon.

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