Workers hurt when winds send partially built Chattanooga Riverfront homes crashing down

Workers hurt when winds send partially built Chattanooga Riverfront homes crashing down

November 18th, 2014 by Shelly Bradbury in Local Regional News

Two partially-constructed buildings collapsed Monday morning at the Cameron Harbor development on the riverfront.

Two partially-constructed buildings collapsed Monday morning at the...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

Two partially-constructed buildings collapsed Monday morning at the Cameron Harbor development on the riverfront.

Two partially-constructed buildings collapsed Monday morning at the...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

Site of building collapse on Chattanooga Riverfront.

Site of building collapse on Chattanooga Riverfront.

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

The developer of a $100 million riverfront housing project vowed to add new safety measures to the construction process Monday after two partially built buildings collapsed and injured several workers.

The wood framing and roofs of two three-story houses crashed to the ground around 10:13 a.m. Monday on Molly Lane. Several workers who were inside the buildings suffered minor injuries, and one man was hospitalized with more serious injuries.

The homes were part of the planned Cameron Harbor development, a housing project that eventually will include 235 apartments, 71 cottage homes and 30 condominiums along the banks of the Tennessee River.

Workers who were inside the buildings during the collapse said they thought wind brought the structures down.

"It sounded like the wind or something," said one worker, who asked not to be identified. "Next thing I know, I got the roof on my back."

Three homes -- all in a row -- were damaged. Workers said the building on the far end of the line collapsed first and knocked over the middle building. The third home was damaged and teetering by the time the dust settled. City building inspectors later determined it should be demolished.

Eliseo Vazquez, a worker who was in a nearby structure when the homes collapsed, said he'd never seen anything like the accident on Monday. He added that even where he was working -- on the first floor of a similar home -- he could feel the structure swaying.

"I could feel it shaking," he said. "[The homes] are too tall and too narrow. They should be two stories."

But developer Aaron White said a "perfect storm" of bad weather and wind gusts led to the buildings' collapse. He said rain on Saturday forced construction workers to leave the homes in a precarious position -- partially framed and partially sheeted.

"It effectively created a sail," White said, "basically a large wind catch on one side of the home. We got some major wind gusts off the river that hit this partially framed-up structure in a precarious position, and it knocked it over."

White added that, as an extra precaution, his firm, Evergreen Real Estate, is hiring a third-party engineer to review the construction company's work.

"So while we feel like this was a really unique set of circumstances, to ensure it doesn't happen again we're hiring a secondary third-party structural engineer that is going to review all of the crews' work, practices and process," he said, "to ensure we have the highest-quality homes when they're completed."

HGH Construction is building the homes at the site. Company leaders did not respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon. The company did not have any history of safety violations with the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration, although some workers said they were not required to wear hardhats while working on the homes.

Cameron Harbor will be built in stages by two different developers on the 20-acre site. The first stage of construction is what's under way now, and it includes both apartments and 20 single-family homes.

All of the homes now under construction already have been sold, White said.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.


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