Woman Hurt, 28 Trapped in Stores as Facade Crashes

Times Staff Writer

A 100-foot-long Spanish-tile facade hanging over a row of Sherman Oaks shops crashed onto the sidewalk Wednesday morning, injuring one woman and trapping 28 people inside the stores for nearly half an hour, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said.

The injured woman, Phyllis Hunter, was released from the Medical Center of North Hollywood after treatment for an injured shoulder and wrist, a hospital spokesman said.

Hunter told hospital officials she was walking out of a beauty shop when she heard the facade crack. As she was running away, debris hit her on the left shoulder, knocking her down, a hospital spokesman said.

"If she would have fallen down just one or two feet closer, she would have been buried," a witness said.

Cause of Collapse Unknown

City building and safety officials, who inspected the building after the collapse, said they do not know what caused the facade to suddenly fall from the building, at the corner of Fulton Avenue and Moorpark Street.

The inspection showed that the building itself was structurally safe and merchants were allowed back into their stores by late afternoon.

"Our inspection shows that this in not a continuing hazard," said Tim Taylor, manager of the Building and Safety Department's Van Nuys office. "It was only the architectural feature that had the problem, not the structural portion of the building."

"We may never know what the cause of the failure was," Taylor said. "We will attempt to go over the original plans to look for any possible defects."

Felt Like Earthquake

During the incident, many of the occupants of the six shops said they believed they were caught in an earthquake.

"First there was this loud roar and then a rumbling sound, like a terrible earthquake," said Gretjen Fenwick, an employee of Valley Oaks Travel. "I ran to the door and then boom, I saw the whole over-hanging slam to the ground."

Fire officials said the people remained trapped until the debris, some still hanging from the side of the building, could be cleared.

"We had no way of getting out and we didn't know if the whole building was going to come down," said Faye Smith, an employee of Raldo's Chili Burgers. "I saw the lady on the ground outside and the only thing we could do was call the Fire Department. It was such a creepy, freak accident."

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