Crews search for victims in Va. building collapse

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CHESTER, Va. (AP) -- Part of a retail and residential building under construction in a Richmond suburb collapsed Wednesday, and authorities were searching for up to 12 workers who may have been inside.

Chesterfield County Fire Lt. Matt Coffin said 911 dispatchers received reports that a dozen workers were inside when a 60-foot-section came crashing down around noon.

But crews had not confirmed the workers were in the building, and a drywall worker told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the workers were at lunch at the time of the collapse. Authorities at the scene did not confirm the worker's account, and said a search of the building could take hours.

"We cannot just go into a building that has collapsed because of the inherent hazards that are there," Coffin said. "We're going to take a very slow approach to this to protect our folks that are involved."

Emergency workers were attempting to stabilize the rubble. They brought in sound-sensitive equipment to detect any movements in the collapsed building while they attempt to shore it up. Some rescuers asked people on the scene to be quiet so they could listen to see if any noises were coming from the building.

Late in the afternoon, a dozen rescue workers with a stretcher entered the rear of the building, which had not fully collapsed.

Robin Kuhn, owner of Old Time Concrete, said his company poured the foundation and footings for building, which is nearly 80 percent complete.

Kuhn said his workers were scheduled to be at the site around the time of the collapse but were not there.

"I have a God that put us in the right place at the right time," Kuhn said.

Cindy Martin, who works across the street at Cotas Barber Shop, said she heard a loud noise and saw the building come down and people running out.

"It's only the grace of God them other guys got out," Martin said.

It wasn't clear what caused the collapse. The two-story wood structure is part of Chester Village Green, a mixed used development in Chester. The community is about 15 miles south of Richmond.