Inspection requested hours before collapse

April 15, 2009 9:01:25 PM PDT
There's new information about a deadly building collapse Tuesday in southeast Houston. We've learned that the builder requested it be inspected only a couple of hours before the incident. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Investigators spent the day near Griggs and the Gulf Freeway searching the scene to try to find out what happened.

There are seven buildings at the construction site. We learned that six of them had been inspected. The building that collapsed, had not been inspected.

A lone security guard watched the site of the deadly collapse the night after the accident. For months, crews had been working here. On Wednesday, they were idle as city inspectors, OSHA investigators and the general contractor searched the rubble for clues. Attorneys for the victim's wife were not far away.

"It's a really tough time for Crystal and her child. We are hoping to get some answers," said Jess Mason, attorney for the victim's family.

Ramiro Sigala, 24, was crushed to death when the structure fell. Two others were trapped, but firefighters were able to free them. One of those men returned to the site limping around, and City Council Member James Rodriguez got a flurry of calls.

"Several of my constituents did call and voice concerns," said Rodriguez.

According to nearby residents, the seven buildings on the site intended for low-income housing had been stripped to their studs before Hurricane Ike. They were basically wooden frames. The hurricane hit and twelve days later, according to the city, the project plans were approved for permits and the builder got them.

Work on the rehabilitation project started in December. All of the buildings except the one that collapsed had been inspected. Worker Eduardo Ramirez told us he had his concerns. He said the building would move side to side and he didn't know why.

We've learned an inspection for the structure that fell was requested just hours before the tragedy and had been originally scheduled for Wednesday. Clearly it wasn't ready.

"Whenever there are rehabs in construction there are somewhat increased risks, but it's premature to speculate as to causes," said Houston Mayor Bill White.

After a lot of confusion and back and forth Wednesday, the Public Works Department told us the contractor requested an inspection at 1pm Tuesday afternoon. The building collapsed happened around 4pm. The inspection was originally scheduled for Wednesday.

An official with the general contractor Camden Builders Inc. told us the structure wasn't inspected with all the others because it simply wasn't ready. He called what happened an accident that never should have occurred.

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