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No one hurt in Martinsburg roof collapse

July 30, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A section of the roof on an empty downtown Martinsburg building collapsed Thursday afternoon, sending water and broken glass out of two windows and down a stairwell.

Nobody was injured, Martinsburg Fire Department Chief Paul Bragg said.

The front section of the roof of the former F.E. Miller Co. building, at 205 N. Queen St., possibly collapsed because a large amount of rainwater had collected there, according to witnesses and the building's owner, Ben Fogle.

Fogle, a developer whose office is in Washington, D.C, said he finalized his purchase of the building in February. He said he paid $230,000 for the building, which from 1926 until recently was home to F.E. Miller Co. The store sold gifts, crafts and antiques and was the site of a post office.

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After the roof collapsed at about 1:30 p.m., members of the Martinsburg Fire Department shut down North Queen Street, from Race Street to Martin Street, for a little more than an hour.

David Wilt, manager of Potomac Video across the street, was working at the time.

"We (saw) the window shoot out and the water came gushing," Wilt said. "It just gave in. It had to be a lot of water. It ran for about five minutes."

More than 45 minutes after the roof collapsed, water was still dripping. The collapsed roof could be seen through the building's second-floor windows, two of which were shattered.

"The roof joists apparently weren't in very good shape," Fogle said from his office. He said he previously walked through the building but could not see the joists because of drywall on the second-floor ceiling.

With the joists probably sagging, water was able to pool on the roof, Fogle said. He said he does not know how much weight joists can hold, but that they usually do not need to be replaced. The building is around 100 years old.

No tenants had signed up to rent or lease space in the building. Fogle said he had insurance.

Chad Turner, who works for GTTT in Shepherdstown, W.Va., was installing electricity near the back of the building. He said he and a fellow worker heard water coming from several spots in the roof.

"We knew it wasn't raining," Turner said. "Water was just going all over the place.

"I've never seen anything like that before," he said.

Nobody was working on the second floor at the time and nobody was injured on the sidewalk below, although some water and glass appeared to land on a parked SUV.

Firefighters blocked off the sidewalk and the parking spaces underneath the building, in part because a row of 13 bricks was pushed outward near the roof line and could topple, Bragg said.

"It's probably going to take an engineer looking at it to determine exactly what happened," Bragg said.

City building inspectors are expected to issue a report on the cause, he said.

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