LITTLE ROCK (AP) — The mayor of a central Arkansas town where a building collapse killed a 2-year-old girl and injured several people says he’s concerned about the safety of other buildings in his city’s aging downtown.
Morrilton Mayor Stewart Nelson says many buildings face the same issues as the two that collapsed Monday — aging walls, years without a serious inspection, and several layers of heavy roofing. He’s asking landlords to have professional inspections done, and says he may push for mandatory checks.
"Today, they are suggestions," he said. "I would anticipate more rules and regulations as far as public safety goes."
Investigators have not determined the cause of Monday’s accident, when a bridal boutique collapsed and knocked down an adjacent cosmetics shop. Rescuers later found 2-year-old Alissa Jones’ lifeless body among the rubble. Her mother, Erin Coffman, was hospitalized and expected to survive.
The city has closed three buildings next to the boutique until the rubble can be cleared and an engineer examines the site, Nelson said.
City officials have said they believed renovations were going on inside the boutique without a permit. Building owner Bryan Andrews declined to comment Tuesday.
Alissa will be buried Saturday. Visitation will be held Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Bob Neal & Sons Funeral Home in Morrilton.
Nelson said he was particularly concerned about structures that have had several roofing jobs.
"A lot of these old buildings have 10, 15 layers of roofing on top," he said. "It’s an invitation to disaster, and that goes for every city in the state of Arkansas."
Officials in other Arkansas towns said Monday’s incident led them to consider potential risks.
"We have an aging downtown area also," said Rick Elumbaugh, the mayor of Batesville, north of Little Rock. "So I think this is a very huge concern, and I think it should be for any mayor that has structures that are historic."
Elumbaugh said officials were worried about unauthorized renovations such as those that were purportedly taking place inside the bridal boutique.
"I think we’re worried about the individuals with very little knowledge of construction that try to go in and remove a supporting wall," he said.
Batesville and other Arkansas towns generally require annual fire checks, but not building inspections. Adding more inspections would be difficult given the tight budgets many local governments face, said Mark Hayes, general counsel for the Arkansas Municipal League, a group that works with cities and towns.
"There’s always more that we in city government want to do," Hayes said, pointing out that large cities also face similar problems. "There are many locales in the state that want very much to do more, but they’re limted with the resources they have."
Nelson said concern about older buildings was not "something that’s confined to Morrilton."
"We were unfortunate, both in the loss of the buildings and the loss of the child, and we need to alert people," he said.