Providence partial building collapse after heavy rain caught on video

2022-09-09 12:49:17 By : Mr. Eric Chang

PROVIDENCE — Jerry Batista and his father, Miguel Batista, were in a relatively unused portion of their sprawling former industrial complex in the West End, a building encompassing a full block on Dexter Street.

They were investigating a leak reported by a tenant on Monday, Sept. 5,  as nearly 5-8 inches of rain fell per hour, at the height of the Labor Day deluge. The pair, along with Jerry Batista's brother, own the building, called Bucklin Plaza.

"We noticed leaks in new areas, where leaks weren't normally the case," he said.

Leaks in the flat-roofed former metal plating facility are normally centered around the dust collection and ventilation units, especially during heavy rainstorms.

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"We immediately thought, we needed to get on the roof and start pumping water off, because the drain system wasn't pushing it out fast enough," Jerry Batista said.

They were gathering their tools and sump pumps when they started hearing cracking. Jerry Batista pulled out his phone and started recording.

"I was walking toward the area where I was hearing cracks when everything broke loose, the electric went out, there was a gust of air, water, dust, everything," he said.

He ran out of the building, toward an open door. Video he took shows water gushing from large drain pipes on the side of the building.

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"We're very grateful nobody was around and we're lucky it was Labor day, because typically this road, there is traffic and kids walking around and cars parked along the road," he said. "Thankfully nobody was caught in the crossfire."

Providence police initially reported no one was in the building when it collapsed.

A photo taken by Jerry Batista from a drone shows the extent of the collapse of the sprawling building, which encompasses a block, on Dexter, Bucklin and Peace streets and Bellevue Avenue. 

Batista said he was surprised at the partial collapse because the building had held up through large snow storms, which would leave heavy snow on the roof for days at a time.

"To our knowledge, it's been structurally sound, and it's a 100-year-old building with giant metal beans and columns," he said. "I'd say it's very sturdy, but it seems all the rain collection in that time frame, it just didn't have a chance to disperse that quickly and the sheer weight of the water caused everything to buckle."

"This area had not been touched and remained the same since we bought it," he said.

In a Tuesday interview, Providence Inspections and Standards Director Joe Atchue said someone removed too much of a load-bearing wall in the middle of the building, which undermined the structure and led to a "perfect storm" of heavy rain that led to the collapsed roof.

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Atchue said work has been done on the building without permits.

Jerry Batista said no one had been working in the area that collapsed and they had building permits to do work, as did the tenants in the building.

A building permit provided by Batista provides for the transformation of the building into a strip mall with "selective interior demo, opening up walls for more space non structural."

He also provided a copy of an electrical permit and identification numbers for the other permits. The building's brick façade is also restricted by the Providence Historic District Commission.

Confusion over permits could be a result of the many addresses for the one building, with addresses on both Peace and Bucklin streets, he said.

Jerry Batista said an incredible amount of water in such a short period of time is to blame for the collapse, as the area of the roof that collapsed inward is where all the water pools.

"We are creating a plaza, so we had permits and the individual tenants have their permits as well," he said.

They bought the building in 2017 and it has been a "passion project." Growing up in the West End, the family's hope was to turn the closed industrial site into a buzzing retail center.

"This was a big setback for us," Jerry Batista said.

They are in talks with insurance adjustors, but don't expect to receive any financial support for months.

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The main goal is to clear the debris and get the two full-time tenants — the Thr3e Live Dance Complex, a drop-in dance studio, and Payano Design, a window tint and vehicle wrap business — back into the building, he said.

In all, the collapse has set back renovation plans two years, he said.

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Reach reporter Wheeler Cowperthwaite at or follow him on Twitter @WheelerReporter.