Small Community of Workers Tries To Cope with Anger, Despair
Apr. 27, 1987
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ A small community of workers spent a fourth day Sunday looking for missing friends in the wreckage of a collapsed apartment building as officials and counselors tried to help the searchers cope with exhaustion, anger and despair.
Mayor Thomas Bucci's office listed the death toll at 15, with 14 bodies pulled from the rubble of the L'Ambiance Plaza and one other spotted and presumed dead. Thirteen other workers were still unaccounted for Sunday afternoon, and six men were hospitalized in good or satisfactory condition.
''The news remains grim; the outlook remains bleak,'' said Bucci.
No survivor had been pulled from debris since shortly after the disaster Thursday afternoon. A man who was lowered Sunday 30 feet into a shaft where others thought they had heard moaning found only tools, a helmet, a lunchbox and blood-smeared concrete.
Frustrated workers tried to prevent television cameras and photographers from taking pictures, and Bridgeport police ordered photographers off a porch that overlooks the block.
Sheets were hung from electric wires and a large plywood wall was built in an attempt to hide the grim scene from prying eyes. One reporter was cited for disorderly conduct for trying to pass through police lines.
''The stress level is very high. In some cases, these people are their family members, their friends, members of the same union,'' said Jonathan Best, city director of emergency management.
''Friends of mine were in there. We're all like one family,'' said Frank Rodrigues. He said he had helped uncover the bodies of four men who looked like they had been alive for a time after the collapse.
''They looked like they were all cuddled up around each other, like for body heat,'' said Rodgrigues.
Workers also brought in three American flags, fixing two small ones to fences and raising the large one an a temporary flagpole.
Meanwhile, engineers who examined building records said the project may have been built on soil too weak to support its weight, while the city's building inspector reportedly complained before the collapse that his department was understaffed.
The bells of St. Augustine Cathedral tolled across downtown during Sunday services, where Bishop Walter Curtis noted that some of the men who had been working at the site had attended Easter services one week earlier.
''They did not realize then that before the week had gone by, death would overcome them,' said Curtis, standing near a large white paschal candle symbolizing the risen Christ.
At the maze of shattered concrete and twisted steel that was the L'Ambiance Plaza, the number of workers varied Sunday from 100 to 150 at a time. Worried officials were trying to prevent them from spending too much time at the site.
Required ID changed every eight hours - for one shift, workers wore red wristbands; for another, a dot of fluorescent paint. Voices were hoarse from breathing the white concrete dust that hung in the air.
The highest pressure was on wiry, small workers who could fit into tunnels in the pile of debris, and who were being called on again and again to descend in search of bodies or survivors.
Best said they were being watched for signs of stress, and some workers were being taken from the site to an undisclosed location so they could rest.
Counselors were also worried about the future.
''Particularly with men who are very macho, as construction workers are, they won't go and seek help when they need help,'' said Judianne Denser- Gerber, a psychiatrist for Applied Resources Corp. who was at the scene. ''It's harder for them than it is for the women to seek help.''
She expected ''a lot of post-traumatic stress syndrome out of this. It's the kind of thing we saw in the Second World War.''
Ron Bianchi, vice president of St. Vincent's Hospital, said Sunday that it was becoming increasingly difficult to identify bodies because they were so badly mangled.
''There have been some cases where the extent of injury to the person is so significant that we don't believe it would be in the best interest of the family to come in and view the body,'' he said. One family was already planning a funeral for Monday morning when they discovered through dental records that a body had been misidentified.
Best said construction workers were being used to clear debris, but were being removed from areas where bodies were about to be taken out of the rubble.
He said even though workers knew they were working with corpses, they were running pell-mell to rush the bodies to an ambulance, and officials feared more men would be hurt. Several rescuers had suffered injuries by Sunday afternoon, including one who hurt his back and another who stepped on a nail.
A 'lift-slab'' construction technique was being used on the building, and witnesses said the collapse occurred while workers were trying to raise into place the concrete slabs that become the floors and the roof.
Experts said that possible problems with the technique include instability in the steel columns, weakness in concrete slabs, failure to jack the slabs evenly and an unstable base for the building. No factor had yet been isolated as the cause, however.
The $17 million project in Bridgeport, an industrial city of 142,600 people on the Connecticut coast 65 miles northeast of New York City, was to be 13 stories tall, with 218 units.