Hotel roof crashes down

No one hurt, but building in Hunt Valley is evacuated

October 11, 2007|By Gina Davis and Jennifer McMenamin | Gina Davis and Jennifer McMenamin,SUN REPORTERS

In town from England for her brother's wedding, Esti Angyalfi had just stepped out of her eighth-floor hotel room when, she says, she heard a cracking sound and saw shards of glass raining down on the atrium of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Hunt Valley.

"I was petrified that someone was downstairs in the lobby and would be hurt," said Angyalfi, 26, who hurriedly gathered about a dozen family members in the hotel's parking lot less than two hours before a late-afternoon wedding at a nearby home. "Obviously that's going to be a bit delayed. But thank God everybody is OK."

About 2 p.m. yesterday, one of two glass roof sections above the hotel's atrium collapsed and fell eight stories, forcing guests to evacuate and a Baltimore County structural engineer to quickly declare the hotel unsafe for occupancy, officials said.

No one was injured during the collapse, according to Lt. Steven Miller of the Baltimore County Fire Department.

A county engineer and the county's chief building inspector examined the site yesterday but were unable to determine the cause of the collapse, said Timothy M. Kotroco, director of county permits and development management.

The pair noticed cracked window panes on the roof in another part of the building but were also unable to determine the cause of that damage.

Guests were allowed to return to retrieve their belongings but will not be permitted to stay at the hotel, according to Donna Welsh, a Fire Department spokeswoman.

The building manager told fire officials that 130 of the hotel's 223 rooms were occupied at the time of the roof collapse.

County building inspectors, BGE crews and county emergency management officials went to the hotel shortly after the collapse.

Firefighters swept through the building, making sure that no one was injured or trapped and that all hotel guests were accounted for.

The county has temporarily condemned the building and ordered a more thorough inspection by structural engineers, said Kotroco, who added that he is unaware of any similar incidents in the county.

"For it to happen on a sunny, clear day like this is unusual," he said.

The atrium runs through the center of the hotel, which is in the 200 block of International Circle near Hunt Valley Towne Centre. It features soaring glass ceilings and a landscaped footpath, according to the hotel's Web site.

The area also includes benches and tables, where breakfast is served daily.

Guests gathered outside the hotel awaiting word on where they would be sleeping last night.

Greg Pedersen, the hotel's general manager, said his staff was able to book all the night's guests at area hotels.

Several hours after the collapse, he said he wasn't sure how long it would take to reopen the 23-year-old hotel.

"We have to figure out what has to be done," said Pedersen, who toured the building floor by floor with structural engineers. "Nobody knows yet what happened. But the biggest part is that everyone is safe."

Pedersen said Monday night's storm didn't appear to be a factor in the collapse, and that water seen trickling from the roof came from the building's fire sprinklers.

Lt. John Cromwell, a county fire spokesman, said, "We're extremely fortunate that no one was in the area at the time because the area is fully covered with shards of glass."

Noreen Conway, 36, of Water Mill, N.Y., had been staying at the hotel but was at her sister's funeral at the Roman Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier in Cockeysville when the collapse occurred. She said about a dozen family members of Irish ancestry, who had traveled from Paris, Dublin and Dubai for the funeral, spent hours in the hotel's atrium on recent days.

"We were all sitting in the atrium every night and for breakfast every morning," said Conway, whose sister, 37-year-old Carolle Anne Jacapraro of Cockeysville, died Saturday of breast cancer.

Having heard that no one was hurt during the collapse, Conway took the sudden change in her family's accommodations in stride as she recalled finding the building surrounded by firetrucks and other emergency vehicles after returning from the funeral.

"The Irish have a very dark sense of humor," she said. "This is a remarkably twisted way for the day to end, but it took the edge off a bad day."

gina.davis@baltsun.com jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

Sun reporter Josh Mitchell contributed to this article.

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