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3 Killed in Philly Pier Collapse

May 19, 2000

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Rescue crews picked through tangled planks and floating debris today as authorities tried to determine why a pier supporting a new outdoor nightclub collapsed into the Delaware River.

Three people died and 37 others were injured, including eight rescue workers hurt trying to pull victims out of the water.

``I heard a loud crash, and then all hell broke loose. I went straight down ... then I was just trying to fight my way up,″ said bartender Joseph Capaci, 28.

About 40 people were on the pier when it plunged into the 30-foot-deep water shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday. A canvas tent over the pier also collapsed, blanketing many people who fell eight feet into the dark, murky water.

``One (patient) told me that they were standing there and suddenly the floor gave out, the lights went out, and they were in an ice bath,″ said Dr. Bartholomew Tortella of MCP Hahnemann University Hospital, who treated victims and firefighters.

Parts of the pier, which is about one-quarter the size of a football field, are 100 years old, officials estimated.

The debris and darkness hampered rescue efforts. Firefighter Joe Whoriskey said rescue workers wore wet suits but had to feel for victims with their feet since they couldn’t see.

``It was all pancaked in there, the walls fell down on the floor, then the ceiling, you had all kinds of deck furniture and kitchen equipment,″ said Whoriskey, who received a tetanus shot and antibiotics for slashes and cuts.

Though authorities didn’t believe anyone was still missing, Coast Guard boats continued to search the water overnight, and the river was closed down to all traffic between the Schuylkill River and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

``We have not found any additional people,″ U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Gregory Adams said at a morning briefing.

City police and fire crews and building inspectors were also at the scene, and the Army Corps of Engineers was on the way.

Nine people remained hospitalized this morning. At least one was in serious condition.

The pier held a bar, Heat, which opened last month and is attached to a ballroom dancing area behind the upscale Moshulu restaurant, in a 394-foot boat docked on the river. The section that collapsed was along the back wall of the ballroom facing the deck, said Stephanie Franklin-Suber, the mayor’s chief of staff.

A hostess at the restaurant, Eve McCarney, said workers had replaced some floorboards Wednesday but did not do any major structural work. Fire and police officials were investigating, as were officials from the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Last month, a pier collapsed on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, submerging at least five vehicles and causing about $10 million in damage.

Update hourly