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Residents flee as apartment building shifts


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Residents of a Salt Lake apartment complex were forced to flee early Thursday morning when a corroded beam underneath the building caused the structure to shift.

The Salt Lake City Fire Department was called to the Mountain Courtyard Suites at 350 South and 300 East just after 1 a.m. with reports of cracking walls.

A 50-foot support beam on the first floor of the building began to bend, causing the apartments above to shift and, in some areas, drop about 6 inches. Thirty-six people were forced to leave their apartment.

Devin Villa, deputy chief of the Salt Lake City Fire Department said, "A shift of 6 inches is fairly significant. It's on the bottom floor. The whole weight of the building is pushing down on that I-beam."

Mountain Courtyard Suites Maintenance Supervisor Ed Larrabee said, "Got a big crack over here in the back."

When the beam started to bend, dozens of residents felt it and panicked.

"We could actually hear some creaking going on in there," Larrabee said.

Sky Ibarra says she started noticing problems Wednesday evening when her door woldn't open. She eventually called police for help.

Hours later, Ibarra, two friends and thier baby were sleeping in the apartment when the commotion began. "We started hearing, like a winding noise, like a tick, tick, tick, then a boom. We heard that twice."

Ibarra and her guests escaped out of a second story window.

Resident Regina Orendein lives on the second floor. She said, "He grabbed our baby and just jumped out the window."

"These guys are telling me that the building is falling and that I need to get home," said resident Gregory Robbins.

The building wasn't falling but shifting, or sinking. Either way, it was unexpected. "I was working in the garage out here yesterday, didn't think a thing about it, didn't see anything going on," Larrabee said.

He said the building, which was built in 1971, was inspected two years ago. At that time, everything was OK.

The city does not require landlords to have their buildings inspected, but it recommends that an engineer trained to spot out problems like this take a look every so often.

Larrabee thinks that over the years, as salt and ice melt was used on the second-story terrace, the calcium chloride or sodium chloride seeped through the floor and onto the beam.

A Salt Lake City building inspector investigated the structure and determined that the 18 units on the west end of the building were not safe to return to.

Larabee says now they just wait for an engineer to assess the damage and decide how to fix it. He said, "It's going to be costly, and it's going to be time consuming."

As for the 36 people who live in the apartments, the Salt Lake City Fire Department did allow them to go back inside for a few minutes to grab a few personal items and then the Red Cross stepped in to help find them new homes.

The building's owners are declining comment, but people close to the situation tell KSL they're hoping to be able to shore up the collapsing beam, allowing the residents to be able to move back in, and for permanent repairs.

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Story compiled with information from Courtney Orton, Shara Park and Marc Giauque.

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