Five people were injured yesterday when two West Baltimore row houses that were being renovated without proper construction permits partially collapsed and the debris fell onto two adjoining homes, city officials said.
The partial collapse of the two structures in the 500 block of McMechen Street damaged or weakened four nearby houses, and city officials decided last night to order their occupants to temporarily move out. The Red Cross was working to find shelter for the families from the evacuated structures -- two adjacent row houses on Division Street and two adjoining row houses on McMechen Street -- until they are again deemed safe.
Meanwhile, the city sent a 20-ton crane to level the two partially collapsed buildings, according to Zack Germroth, a housing department spokesman. Mr. Germroth said that once demolition is completed, the city will bill the row houses' owner, the George Vincent Corp. of the 800 block of North Guilford Avenue, for the cost of razing them.
Capt. Patrick P. Flynn, a Fire Department spokesman, said construction crews had been working in the two McMechen Street row houses just after 10 a.m. when they partly collapsed onto the first-floor rear kitchens of two adjoining row houses on McMechen Street.
The two buildings being renovated had been damaged in a fire and were sold at a tax sale before being transferred to the current owners, according to city officials. Mr. Germroth said renovation of the properties was begun initially without any permits from the city or inspections by a building engineer.
"They did not get permits for the degree of work they were doing," said Mr. Germroth. "They took up floor joists and removed structural walls from between the two buildings when they only had permits to modify them."
After neighbors complained about allegedly unauthorized work, a city building inspector told the contractor to obtain proper permits, the housing spokesman said. However, the contractor only obtained permits allowing for light modification of the properties, Mr. Germroth said.
"They did not follow common sense construction procedures. The first thing you are supposed to do is have an engineer go through the building. They even took away the wall that runs down between the two buildings," Mr. Germroth said.
Five people living in the houses damaged by falling debris were injured. Etta Jones, 73, Jason Peoples, 19, and Quinton Dennis, 21, were treated at area hospitals and released. A visitor, Marian Branch, 29, of the 1000 block of Cameron Road, was admitted to University Hospital for observation, and Lareina Smith, 31, was reported in fair but stable condition last night at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.