EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 13, 2013

Getting out of harm's way

30 families leave building with partially collapsed roof

By Bill Kirk
bkirk@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — Tenants of an Inman Street apartment building damaged during the weekend blizzard were allowed to stay in their apartments until Monday even though part of the roof had collapsed over their heads.

By Monday, after a lengthy meeting at the 6 Inman St. site between Fire and Building Department officials, as well as the owner, it was decided that the 30 families living there should be evacuated immediately.

Yesterday, former tenants continued streaming out of the building, carrying their belongings with them and climbing into cabs and cars and driving away.

Fire and city building officials say that while the tenants were never in danger, the building’s roof was determined to be in a precarious state. They also found that one of the other buildings in the complex also has some structural problems, but that the tenants can remain.

The problems all started, said tenants, Saturday morning during the historic blizzard that dropped up to two feet of snow across the region, driven by near-hurricane force winds.

“This happened Saturday morning,” said Jorge Lora, 37, who lived in Apt. 20 on the second floor for about a year with his two children. “Everyone in the building heard the sound of the roof breaking. And then they waited until last night (Monday) to tell everyone.”

Lora said he got a call at 6:30 p.m. Monday telling him he had to get out immediately. He returned to his apartment, got his children, and is now staying in a hotel.

“I’m moving everything,” he said, as a friend boxed up his kitchen belongings. “I don’t want to live here anymore.”

Lawrence Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said the first he heard about it was when the fire department got a single-alarm call Sunday morning at 6 Inman St.

“The initial call came in for water leaking through the ceiling” in one of the third-floor apartments, he said. “When the crew got on scene, they looked for the source of water. They went into the attic space and saw the partial roof collapse. A vent pipe went up through roof and water was leaking through that one spot.”

He said at the time it was unclear if the roof was in any danger of collapsing further.

“Is it serious?” he asked. “Absolutely. Is it life-threatening? That’s debateable. The building inspector (Lawrence Hester) looked it Sunday, and said, ‘I don’t see it going any further.’”

Hester said that he was also called to the site on Sunday following a phone call from Building Commissioner Peter Blanchette. He said he poked his head in the attic and, using a small flashlight, saw some damage, at which point he told the owner of the building, Sonny Abraham of Weston, that the tenant living directly under the partial collapse should move.

Ana Lantigua, 62, no relation to Mayor William Lantigua, was moved to a unit down the hall.

At that time, Hester said, it didn’t appear that the damage was so severe it warranted an evacuation.

“We don’t like to vacate a building unless we think it’s life-threatening,” he said. “I went in, one step into the attic, with a little flashlight. I visualized that area, and I determined the unit should be vacated. I didn’t see any leaks.”

He added, “I couldn’t really see ... the failure in this section was only over apartment 26. ... I didn’t see how it was constructed. I did see a break, but I didn’t see any bowing; I couldn’t see the whole ridge.”

Arriving later on Sunday was Marcos Devers, a state representative who also is a licensed professional engineer, called in by the owner of the building to make his own assessment.

Devers said he also went into the attic to look at the damage, which appears to have been caused by a large drift that formed between two eaves on the roof.

“I was called in by owner Sonny Abraham as a consulting engineer,” said Devers. “He called me in a state of emergency. I went and checked the attic and I saw the roof collapsed because of the snow drift.”

He said he thought the roof was unsafe “for that particular portion of the building” and that the “roof beam had become disconnected from the roof rafters.”

By Monday, however, things had changed dramatically.

The owner called in a contractor to “shore up the structure,” according to Chief Bergeron. But the contractor called the Fire Department.

“He said it might need a little more than that,” Bergeron said.

Fire officials, including Bergeron and Dep. Chief Brian Murphy, met at the site Monday morning with Hester and Blanchette, the owner of the building and his engineer and architect. Together, they decided that the collapse had gotten worse and could endanger the tenants of the building.

“We were looking at it with the building inspector and the structural engineer, we realized a portion of roof would have to come off,” Bergeron said. “A decision was made and we said, ‘Let’s be on the safe side, and order the evacuation now.’”

He added, “It was a joint decision, but it’s the building commissioner’s call. I don’t believe anyone was in danger.”

Hester agreed.

“The next morning, when we were there, there was more movement,” he said. “At that time, we decided, in a joint effort with the building commissioner and fire department, that the building should be vacated. There was more movement in the structural members compared to the day before.”

He added, “The first day I was there, I could not see all the collapsed members. The second day, it made sense.”

Blanchette agreed.

“The damage progressed,” he said. “The members were really falling apart and pulling apart. It looks like a thing that’s going to get worse. We did the safest thing, which was to empty the building.”

“Taking into account the enormity of displacing 30 families, I think we did a good job of it,” he said. “The owner of the building is working very cooperatively with us.”

He said the owner is trying to find apartments at other properties he owns for the displaced tenants.

The owner of the property could not be reached. A woman who identified herself as his wife was reached at a phone number in Weston. She said her husband was busy and would issue a statement at a later date.

The property is actually owned by Royal Park LLC, based at 30 Page Road, Weston, according to city assessor records. According to Secretary of State records, that company is owned by Sonny Abraham, also of 30 Page Road, Weston. Abraham also owns a company called Boston Biopharma, according to Secretary of State records.

The building at 6 Inman St. is part of a complex of four buildings at 2-8 Inman St., with 30 units each. The entire property is assessed for about $8.6 million. It was sold to Royal Park LLC in 2004 for $8.4 million, according to city assessor records.