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May 17, 2011

Girl killed, 4 injured in Ark. building collapse

By Andrew DeMillo 
Associated Press

MORRILTON, Ark. — As residents and rescue workers arrived at the scene of a building collapse in central Arkansas, one woman trapped under a beam screamed out for her baby, and rescuers pulled out the lifeless body of a 2-year-old girl after a desperate search through the rubble.

Firefighters used everything from backhoes to their bare hands to sift through the wreckage of the two-story brick building hours after 2-year-old Alissa Jones' body was found in the rubble and authorities had accounted for everyone else inside. At least six other people were injured when the building suddenly collapsed Monday.

Brian Matthews was at his auto detailing shop nearby when he heard the building crumble. When he looked up, "there was nothing but smoke," he said.

He said he was among those who rushed over and heard a woman screaming, "My baby is still inside." He and other men pulled bricks and wood off the woman, exposing her injured legs as she continued to cry out.

Some of the rescuers began searching for the child. Matthews said the girl's body was lifeless when rescuers found her. The relationship between the woman and the toddler was not immediately clear.

The building housed a bridal boutique and cosmetic store. Investigators were trying to determine whether ongoing construction at the bridal shop was to blame for the collapse about 50 miles northwest of Little Rock.

"We don't know how or why they collapsed," said Brandon Baker, the director of emergency management in Conway County. "We just know it was fast."

One wall inside the building that remains standing is still a cause for concern, Mayor Stewart Nelson said Tuesday morning.

"I'm standing here looking at it," Nelson said. "It's been creaking and groaning all night ... We're just waiting for that wall to collapse, too."

He said Monday that people had noticed similar noises at the building in recent days, and that the building was at least 100 years old.

Of the 10 people inside the building, Baker said one died and four others were injured. Conway County coroner Richard Neal identified the girl as Alissa Jones and said one of her relatives was among the injured.

But a local hospital said six people were treated. Christy Hockaday, chief executive of St. Vincent Morrilton, said five of the six were released and the remaining person was in good condition.

Morrilton police suspended the search of the rubble overnight but said crews would resume looking for any possible victims Tuesday. Although authorities had accounted for everyone who was inside the building, they wanted to make sure no one outside the building was injured. Some workers inserted tiny cameras into crevices between crumbled bricks to make sure no one else was trapped.

The collapsed building closed off a stretch of downtown Morrilton, a working-class city of 6,700. Broken bricks and twisted metal slumped over the street corner where the building once stood. A broken clothes rack showed off a few colorful dresses, mostly untouched by the barrage of debris.

Down the street, Kylie Cole, 32, thought a train from the nearby depot collided with a car when she heard the building collapse. By the time she made it near the stores, all she could see was dust.

"We heard people screaming and crying," she said.


Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and Jeannie Nuss contributed to this report.

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