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Scaffold Collapse Snarls US Border

Thursday, September 15, 2011

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A massive collapse of construction scaffolding shut down the world’s busiest land border crossing in Southern California this week, crushing 15 cars and sending 11 people to the hospital with injuries.

The 50-by-50-foot structure collapsed onto eight northbound lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday, raining concrete, metal supports, wooden planks, a huge tarpaulin and other debris on vehicles that had just passed through inspection booths.

 San Ysidro Port of Entry

 Wikimedia Commons

Northbound traffic in Tijuana, Mexico, waits at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the world’s busiest land border crossing.

The scaffolding, designed to protect cars from falling debris during demolition, had been erected under a canopy that covers the booths. The collapse started at Lane 8 and continued across other lanes to the pedestrian processing building, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Angelica De Cima.

Debris Covers Vehicles

“There were several vehicles completely covered in debris,” said Frank Jaramillo, Customs’ director of San Diego’s ports of entry from Tijuana.

Most of the motorists were able to free themselves from their cars, but several had to be extricated.

The collapse shut down all northbound vehicle and pedestrian traffic from Mexico for hours.  Border agents also closed southbound traffic for a time but later reopened all lanes but one, which was reserved for emergency vehicles, Caltrans officials said.

Rescue workers evaluated 24 people at the scene for injuries, and one construction worker was reported seriously injured. He and 10 other workers and motorists, including a pregnant woman, were hospitalized. None of the injuries was considered life threatening.

Video Captures Scene

Border agents re-opened the normally busy pedestrian bridge and began processing pedestrian traffic at 6:30 p.m. after safety checks were completed on the building, De Cima said.

Thirteen of the 24 northbound lanes reopened at midnight, but the other lanes were expected to remain closed through Thursday.

Local news video showed cars buried in the rubble.

Investigation, Assessments Underway

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the cause of the accident, while federal engineers from the General Services Administration continue to assess the risk of further collapse and develop a cleanup plan. GSA owns the ports of entry.

About 50,000 vehicles and 25,000 pedestrians enter the United States each day at the San Ysidro crossing, which is undergoing a $577 million overhaul by Hensel Phelps Construction Co., based in Greeley, CO.

 An artist’s rendering of completed border expansion project, set for 2015


An artist’s rendering shows the completed border expansion project, set for 2014.

The three-phase project is a bi-national effort by the U.S. and Mexican governments to expand the northbound U.S. point of entry and completely replace the southbound Mexican point of entry. On the U.S. side, construction of a new east/west pedestrian bridge was completed in February.

Hensel Phelps, with offices nationwide, was established in 1937.

Hensel Phelps referred all inquiries Thursday to GSA, but Randy Barr, an operations manager for the company, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that workers had been removing plaster from a building scheduled for demolition when the accident occurred.

OSHA records show 19 inspections of Hensel Phelps projects in the last five years. Most of those inspections were planned; none involved the San Ysidro site. No citations were issued after any of the inspections.


Tagged categories: Access; Construction; Health and safety; OSHA; Roads/Highways; Scaffolding

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