Iowa building collapse survivor describes life


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May 13, 2023

Iowa building collapse survivor describes life

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Quanishia "Peach" White Berry and her wife, Lexus, say May 28 was as normal as any other day: They scrolled through TikTok videos while waiting for the groceries they had ordered so they could cook dinner.

Video above: Rescuers at site of Iowa building collapse complete search for survivors, move on to recovery

Then, they noticed the cracks in their home. First, Lexus spotted one separating a window from the wall of the six-floor apartment building. Her wife saw an even larger one in the bathroom.

"I said, ‘Something's wrong,’" Peach, 24, recalled. "I just felt it in my soul."

The cracks were growing by the second, and they began to make a frightening noise. The pair quickly grabbed their two cats, holding one each, and reached for the door. Lexus grabbed the handle and prepared to turn it.

Then, the floor gave out and the building came crumbling down on top of them.

Three people were killed and dozens of apartment units were destroyed when the Davenport, Iowa, building partially collapsed.

Peach and Lexus recalled the disaster to CNN in an exclusive joint interview at the hospital on Wednesday – the same day they filed a lawsuit against the city and the building's owner for negligence.

Describing the moments of the collapse, Peach said it all came down on her in the "blink of an eye." For a moment, everything went dark as she panicked.

"I was so scared," she said. "I was just like, ‘what just took place?’"

By the time she gathered her thoughts, she found herself crushed under cold, wet debris and cement after falling multiple stories, and trapped by rotting metal pieces, shards and portions of disassembled flooring. Peach yelled for Lexus, hoping her wife was alive and conscious enough to be able to respond, but did not hear anything back.

Lexus, 27, told CNN she didn't hear her wife's yelling because she had not fallen as far down. The pair lived on the fourth floor and Lexus said she was able to stay on a sturdy piece of flooring and maneuver through the debris that fell on top of her.

Peach, meanwhile, was focused on surviving: She covered her head and face so no other debris could hurt her and worked to avoid the water that was spewing from a nearby broken pipe so she didn't drown.

"‘I have to make it, especially for (Lexus),’" she remembers thinking at the time. "‘I have to be able to tell this story.’"

Finally, hours after the fall, first responders reached Peach.

They had to close off electricity and gas to the building to prevent explosions before they could reach her, said Dr. Calvin Atwell, a trauma surgeon at Genesis Medical Center in Davenport, who responded to the scene.

When they finally approached the area where Peach was trapped, rescuers were surrounded by crumbling concrete, and the only way to reach her was by crawling under a beam of stainless steel – a small space that could fit just one person at a time, Atwell said.

"She was losing a fair amount of blood from her right leg and you could see an open wound," he said. "We crawled in there and put a tourniquet on that leg and they were working vigorously to get that leg untrapped."

But her left leg was trapped between a large concrete block and a steel girder, and first rescuers quickly realized they wouldn't be able to free it. And while they worked, Peach was growing weak and becoming unresponsive, Atwell said.

"When she was unresponsive, we just made a decision: Let's get her out of here," the doctor said. "We knew that she’d been trapped for six hours, and we knew that she wasn't going to survive much longer."

Atwell performed an above-the-knee amputation with a knife and power saw in the crumbling building, surrounded by dust and debris, as search and rescue team members shone lights on the procedure. Peach was then rushed to the hospital.

Nearly two weeks since the traumatizing experience, Peach doesn't regret the decision to amputate: It's the only way she could have survived, she says.

"I’m looking forward to healing and getting good treatment, good care. I’m already seeing myself walking again. I don't feel stopped by any means," she said.

According to the couple's lawsuit, filed Wednesday, Peach was under rubble and unable to move for about eight hours.

"While trapped she was terrified, not sure if she would survive or be found, all the while enduring water and structural debris raining down on top of her," the complaint says. "The only way the emergency responders could extricate Peach was to amputate her left leg above the knee."

The 80-page suit names the city of Davenport, the owner of the building and several others they deem responsible for "permanent and catastrophic personal injuries." The suit includes pictures of the building's crumbling exterior along with past inspection information that said the building was not up to code, and alleges complaints were known for some time.

"Do you know how they knew about it? They were told, time and time again," said attorney Steven Hart at a news conference Wednesday.

Andrew M. Stroth, another attorney for the family, told CNN, "The family wants the owners of the building, the engineers, the contractors, and other responsible parties held responsible for this tragic, and one hundred percent preventable event."

CNN has reached out to the city and building owner for comment.

In response to a CNN inquiry Tuesday about the incident, a spokesperson for the building's owner said they are "devastated" by the tragedy. "Our hearts go out to everyone involved, people displaced, people injured, and of course the people that lost their lives," Harlan Loeb told CNN in a statement.

Another apartment resident has also filed a lawsuit against the owner and the city for negligence, saying they knew about the dangers but failed to warn residents.

Peach and Lexus are asking for an unspecified amount of money to be determined by a jury for damages that left Peach "permanently disabled," and "permanently disfigured," according to the filing.

In their CNN interview, Lexus said "every inch" of her wife's body has been affected. And it's not just physical scars.

During the first days, she was conscious at the hospital, Peach recalled how the trauma began to sink in and she wondered whether the hospital building she was in was safe or if she’d find herself in another collapse.

Lexus also now has PTSD since the collapse, she said. And one of their cats remains missing, the pair said.

But, Lexus said, "We can help each other get through anything. If we can survive that, what else can be thrown at us that we can't survive?"

"We’re just happy to be here and look forward to holding everyone else accountable for our lives changing in a blink of an eye," she said.

Video above: Rescuers at site of Iowa building collapse complete search for survivors, move on to recovery