Wall Collapse Kills 1, Injures 7 at Rice U.

HOUSTON – Five cinder block walls partially collapsed on the second floor of a residence hall at Rice University on June 19, killing one construction worker and injuring seven others.

The walls involved in the collapse were located in a dormitory, called McMurtry College, that was being built. When the collapse occurred, five of the workers were trapped, and fire fighters had to rescue them. One of those individuals died, while the other four were taken to local hospitals. Three other workers who tried to dig out the original five also received minor injuries.

The cause of the collapse is currently being investigated, although it occurred during a rain storm with high winds.

Rice University released the following statement regarding the accident:

Construction accident remains under investigation

An investigation is under way into the circumstances surrounding the accident at a construction site on the Rice University campus Thursday afternoon that resulted in the death of one construction worker and injury of seven others.  The death and injuries occurred when a severe thunderstorm with high winds and lightning struck the campus around 4 p.m. The Rice Crisis Management Team is still gathering information about the incident, but here is what has emerged to date:

As construction crews saw the lightning strikes from the rapidly developing storm, they began vacating work sites and securing them for the storm. A small group was finishing work at McMurtry College, one of two residential colleges under construction on the north side of campus, when the site was struck by powerful wind gusts that are reported to have measured more than 60 miles per hour in some areas.  Five concrete block walls under construction for rooms on the second floor toppled.  One worker was dead at the scene and seven others were injured. Rice EMS initiated patient care and then later assisted the Houston Fire Department crew. Four construction workers were taken to the hospital but do not have life-threatening injuries. The other three injured workers were treated at the scene and later received additional hospital care; one of those three was admitted to the hospital. As of Sunday morning, four of the workers remained in the hospital.

The workers are employed by Lucia, a masonry firm performing work for the general contractor for the project, Linbeck. According to Linbeck, the deceased worker was Juan Romero of Missouri City, Texas. The seven other injured employees are Carlos Ayala, Natividad Chinchilla, Jorge Guzman, Bobby Martin, Emigdio Moreno, Douglas Padilla and Noel Puente. Company officials have notified the families.

OSHA has conducted an investigation of the accident. The worksite remains closed for further investigations. Based on what is known to date, the accident is believed to have been caused by the sudden severe windstorm.

Rice Vice President of Administration Kevin Kirby ordered all construction on campus to stand down Friday morning while storm debris is cleared and the sites are checked to ensure that safety was not compromised by the storm. Workers are reviewing safety procedures as well. Work on most sites resumed Friday afternoon. Safety procedures and track records are a key priority when construction firms are hired for Rice projects, Kirby said.

Rice President David Leebron is overseas but has been informed of the tragedy and expressed his deep condolences for the workers and their families. The entire Rice community is deeply saddened by the loss of life and injury.

McMurtry College will be Rice’s 10th residential college. The five-story, 324-bed facility is scheduled to open in the fall of 2009. Construction began in 2007.

Information will be updated as available at www.rice.edu.

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