Downstate Amazon warehouse partially collapsed during tornado wasn’t built properly: lawyer

Six people died after a tornado damaged the Edwardsville warehouse in December 2021.

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The aftermath of the partial collapse of an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville, Illinois, in December.

The aftermath of the partial collapse of an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Edwardsville in December.

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A downstate Amazon warehouse where six workers died last year when a tornado slammed into it had “numerous” support columns that weren’t properly attached to the ground, a lawyer for one of the victims said Tuesday.

“An unanchored column is very analogous to a backyard deck/patio umbrella: When it’s not connected to its base under the table, a strong wind is simply just going to lift up that umbrella, similar to what occurred here,” Jack Casciato, a partner at Clifford Law Offices, told reporters.

Casciato, who represents the family of 26-year-old Austin McEwen, said the information about the columns came from a report filed by a government-mandated structural engineer who inspected the Edwardsville warehouse the day of the Dec. 10 tragedy. The report was released in recent weeks through the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request, Casciato said.

“Looking at the base of the columns more closely, I could find no weld or bolted connection at the base of any column, but only a bead of what appeared to be some sort of caulk around the column at the finished floor line,” wrote the engineer, whose name is blacked out in the report.

The McEwen family suit, filed in January, claims Amazon “carelessly required individuals ... to continue working up until the moments before the tornado struck.” It also said Amazon “improperly directed” McEwen and others to seek shelter in a bathroom, which they “knew or should have known” wasn’t a safe place.

But Casciato said Tuesday that the building’s construction was a contributing factor in the deaths of McEwen and the others.

“Someone just simply didn’t finish the job,” Casciato said.

Casciato said his firm’s construction experts have “Indicated that many buildings in this area historically can withstand an EF3 tornado when the actual support columns are properly anchored.”

A spokeswoman for Amazon said it’s too early to draw conclusions about the building’s construction.

“Our focus continues to be on supporting our team and all those affected by this tragic natural disaster,” said the spokeswoman, Kelly Nantel. “Investigators continue to conduct a comprehensive forensic examination of the building and debris — so it’s premature and misleading to suggest there were any structural issues.

“The original developer completed construction on this building in 2018 in compliance with all applicable building codes as documented by the city and the original owner. The building was re-inspected and passed City inspections in 2020 when Amazon leased the building.”

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