A wall collapsed at a shopping mall Thursday morning, killing three people, injuring seven and sending dozens of elderly “mall walkers” scrambling for their lives. As many as six others were feared missing under tons of concrete and steel rubble.
The wall was being torn down to make room for a Magic Johnson movie theater complex when it caved in.
“It just all of a sudden went crackling. I ran,” said Dorothy McCann, who was among those who exercise daily by walking laps inside the Northline Mall.
Rescuers using dogs searched through the debris for victims. Cranes were brought in during the afternoon to move rubble, and a mall security videotape was being reviewed to see if it could shed light on what happened.
The bodies of three women were retrieved from the rubble late Thursday, more than 10 hours after firefighters and paramedics descended on the site. Four to six others were believed to be missing.
“We’re pretty certain there may be other people under the debris,” Fire Chief Eddie Corral said. “We won’t really know until we get in there and pull it off. Some of it is rather large and heavy.”
Authorities continued searching late into the night with hope that those missing could still be alive.
“That’s always a possibility,” Corral said. “We’re not going to say no. A lot of miraculous things happen.”
Demolition crews were removing the last sections of an old department store when a wall shared by the store and the mall caved in at about the time the mall opened at 9 a.m.
“I just heard a loud rumble,” said Mary Shields, 59, who was inside the mall. “I could see dust flying. I turned around and looked back. I saw people running out of the offices saying somebody got hurt. The dust was so thick. You couldn’t see.”
Six of the injured were “mall walkers,” most of them in their 60s and 70s, including a man who ran through a window to flee the avalanche of debris and a couple who were pushed to the ground by the force of the collapse.
The most seriously injured was a 67-year-old woman with a broken ankle.
In 1995, Johnson, the former basketball star, broke ground on his chain of movie theaters with a promise to provide jobs and good service to minority urban areas. The mall is about five miles north of downtown Houston.