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

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 request, Casciato said.

An Amazon representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“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 McEwan 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.”

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