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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Toys 'R' Us Store's Roof Collapses From Weight of Rain, Snow

Aired February 22, 2003 - 13:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: More on this breaking story following for you outside of Washington, D.C. In Prince George's County, Maryland, our Kathleen Koch is on the scene now and on the telephone with us, where 90 percent of the roof of a Toys 'R' Us store has collapsed.
Kathleen, what do you see going on there now?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a lot of activity here, Fredricka. We arrived about five minutes ago. There are in adjacent shopping center, six ambulances here waiting. Directly in front of the Toys 'R' Us store, there are three more ambulances on standby. And there is -- they have set up a small ambulatory care unit, sort of a mobile hospital right in front of the store.

We have seen however, no one go in and no one come out yet. Obviously you have the reports earlier that there were three store employees who did escape with some minor injuries and were taken to a local hospital.

But at this point, there are two very enormous cranes that are extended over the roof. But we don't see anyone on those cranes. There doesn't really appear to be any major activity going on. And there's a third crane on standby at this nearby shopping center.

So we're going to be going up, getting easy close to the store as we can to get what information we can. Obviously, the great concern here is that on a Saturday morning with this roof having collapsed, I think the call came in around 11:45, there is great potential for some customers to be trapped inside.

WHITFIELD: And Kathleen, we spoke it a PG County fire spokesperson earlier who said that, while nearly the entire roof has collapsed, they can only presume because it was so crowded that there just might be people inside, but there's no evidence that there are indeed people inside. That they might be using dogs and heat seeking devices. Are you seeing any evident of that use?

KOCH: Actually, now I am seeing somewhat at base of one of the cranes. So, it looks like they may be starting a little movement there. I have not personally seen any dogs go in or come out.

But you know the elements are certainly going to be working against the rescue workers here, Fredricka. The rain is coming down here, at the rate of almost three-quarters of an inch an hour. There has been lightning as we were on our way here. So, Mother Nature is not helping out this rescue effort whatsoever. One can only hope if there is anyone trapped inside, that they are getting some shelter from rain, and from the heavy snow that was obviously piled up on this flat roof.

WHITFIELD: And Kathleen, in fact, the belief is still correct, is it not, that this rain, this heavy rain this morning compounded by the two feet of snow just sitting on the flat top roof are the contributing factors here?

KOCH: Precisely, Fredricka. In the stories we have done earlier this week on the pending snow melt on this coming rain, officials we spoke with here in Washington said that basically, you take all of this snow that fell on this area. and then you add to it, say two inches of rain that, that doubles the weight of this already, very, very heavy snow. So they were quite concerned about events just like this.

WHITFIELD: All right, and Kathleen, you talked about people kind of forecasting that it just might be a problem. In your journey making your way to that building, were you able it see any kind of evidence of other flat top buildings that seem to have that very same problem?

KOCH: Well, you know Fredricka, the problem is that you cannot see it from the street. And indeed, we heard, as we were coming here, reports on the radio that the people in the store had no idea they were experiencing any sort of problem. And there had been roof collapses in the Washington, D.C. area earlier this week.

On Monday, a Montgomery County doughnut shop, a doughnut manufacturing shop, its roof collapsed. And then a marketplace that collapsed the following day, an empty open marketplace that was going to be refurbished. And people simply had no clue. Perhaps they had a little bit of water dropping through, but rescue workers at the time were saying that the worst thing you could do would be to try to get on the roof. To try to clear the snow from those flat roofs because perhaps your weight would be the straw that broke the camel's back. So, there's really no way of telling.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kathleen Koch, thanks for joining us on the telephone there from Lanham, Maryland. And our fingers are crossed of course, for the emergency workers now dealing with this inclement weather. Downpours and now lightning strike as Kathleen was describing as they perhaps to continue to look for any potential victims in that roof collapse of that Toys 'R' Us in Prince George's County, Maryland.

We are going to continue to keep tabs on this story.

But for now, we're going to take a short break and return to our SHOWDOWN: IRAQ.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at CNN headquarters. Back now with an update on this breaking story were following for you out of Prince George's County, Maryland.

Perhaps to give us some perspective on the ongoing search there of this roof collapse at a Toys 'R' Us store in Lanham, Maryland is Nancy Lineman, who is the PIO for the Prince George's County executive.

And, Nancy, if you can give us an update on what you understand the search to be right now?

NANCY LINEMAN, PIO, PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Sure. About 11:45 this morning the roof collapsed of the Toys 'R' Us store. And we have right now all employees accounted for. Approximately 90 percent of the roof has collapsed. And the Fire Department here is operating on the assumption that there could indeed be people trapped inside.

The store, I understand, was busy at the time. And right now we are currently undergoing assessments of the building to see the structural damage and to make sure it's safe for Fire Department and Collapse Teams to move in to the search and rescue phase.

WHITFIELD: And Nancy, you are working on the assumption simply because you are unable to know how many customers were in the store, even though you already have an exact head count of the employees, is that correct?

LINEMAN: That's correct, that's correct. And the tendency in situations like this for people to sort of run out and get into their cars and drive away from the scene. So it is -- it is impossible to know how many customers were inside.

WHITFIELD: Well, Nancy, can we talk about what the rescue workers are up against at this point? Our reporter, Kathleen Koch was reporting that there were signs of lightning strikes, still have a heavy downpour and all of that has to indeed contribute to hampering the rescue, right? That's correct. On top of close to 20 inches of snow, this area has received -- OK. Nancy, I apologize for interrupting you right now. But just hold on for a moment.

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