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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Interview with Matt Frondorf

Aired December 4, 2002 - 11:18   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking now at the latest live pictures we are getting in from San Antonio. The scene there, this is downtown San Antonio, and there you can see the scene emerging there at the top of your screen, building collapse near Commerce and Navaro (ph) Streets in downtown San Antonio.
This was a five-story building that was under renovation. It was an older building, we believe that we were told this morning it was at least 100 years old, and it was being converted into a luxury hotel. Well, that is not the case at this particular point. Now it is a scene of recovery. There were a couple of people trapped inside the rubble. As we understand it, the facade of the building collapsed and fell out on to the street, and after that happened, a series of other events caused the upper level structures, the iron you see there behind that -- the crane structure, those were the I-beam supports of the building. Well, they began to give way, and what happened, according to reports that we have gotten, is that floors then pancaked, and all fell down to the lower level, and as we understand it, there were several construction workers who were trapped inside.

We've been able to see with our own eyes at least two who have been carried away, and as you can see, the scene there on the street, that's where the facade had collapsed and fallen out on to the street and as you can see, they're out there cleaning that up with bulldozers, which would indicate that they did not believe that there were any pedestrians or any passersby who were in any way damaged or hurt or caught up in that rubble pile.

I believe we have an eyewitness who was there. I guess -- in fact, Matt Frondorf, are you there?

MATT FRONDORF, WITNESS: Yes.

HARRIS: Hey, Matt, I understand you work in a building not far from here and you saw the whole thing?

FRONDORF: Didn't see it happen, I was right around the corner walking to work when it happened, heard it happen and then went on down the 100 yards to Commerce Street and saw the rubble out in the street.

HARRIS: When you saw the rubble in the street, did anything fall after you arrived there?

FRONDORF: No, it had already come down. I think it pretty much came down in one swoop. I think you had mentioned some floors in the building. I don't believe, in walking past the building in previous weeks -- it was all gutted out, and I don't think it had any floors left in it.

HARRIS: That is good to hear.

FRONDORF: And that was just the bare walls that are left, and didn't look real stable, quite frankly, because there just wasn't any structural support left inside with the floors gone, although they had shored it up with some girders and stuff, but that's what came down, and I think what's going to be the next project facing these people is that there's an identical wall to that on the other side of the building that faces the Riverwalk, and I would assume it's similarly unstable. So they're probably going to have to bring that down in short order.

HARRIS: What did all the walls look like to you, in your opinion? Did they look like they may be in danger of falling or what?

FRONDORF: Well, I would just say that they're the same kind of walls on the Riverwalk side that were on the street side, with a similar shoring and all, but insofar as the wall on the street has fallen down, I would say that they probably -- if they haven't already, it looks like they already have the Riverwalk closed off on that side, and I would assume they're probably going to have to take that down in the coming hours or days.

HARRIS: Now, when you did get to the building, Matt, did you happen to hear anybody inside the building?

FRONDORF: No, I couldn't hear anything, and there was a bus, a city bus that was hit by the building as it came down, and so it must have been right along the bus lane by the building, but I don't think anyone was injured on that either.

HARRIS: Matt, you say that this rubble hit a bus that was going by. How badly was the bus damaged? Could you tell?

FRONDORF: Oh, it had several windows knocked out, and panels kind of banged up, and -- but it was still driveable.

HARRIS: Yes. We're looking now at some live pictures coming from a helicopter flying over the scene. You see firefighters there picking through hand by hand, and throwing bricks over the floor, and from what we can tell, Matt, you may be correct. It looks like there's only one floor there, and that may have been the first floor that was actually being renovated there.

FRONDORF: Yes, there was absolutely no interior to the building. They had taken that all out.

HARRIS: That is good to hear, but the other report we had gotten this morning is that they believed -- it was believed that the other floors or whatever had been above had pancaked and fallen down.

FRONDORF: No, that wasn't the case because there weren't any floors above.

HARRIS: Now, the back wall of this structure is what you say is facing the Riverwalk?

FRONDORF: That's right.

HARRIS: Because we're looking at pictures of that right now, and I can see what you mean by that. I can see the girders that you were describing are actually set up there to support that wall.

FRONDORF: That's right. It's just the bare wall, which by itself -- a brick wall doesn't have a lot of structural strength, and then they have shored that up with girders during the construction process, and that's the exact way that the wall on the Commerce Street side was shored up.

HARRIS: Well, how long have these walls and this building been in this kind of condition?

FRONDORF: Well, they've had that project going on, I would say, probably for four months, six months, something like that. A few months.

HARRIS: Has there been a lot of rain or something that might have...

FRONDORF: We've had a lot of rain, but I don't know what impact that would have on the structural integrity of the building.

HARRIS: Yes, just wondered.

FRONDORF: One thing, in talking to the people in our building here just coincidentally, it seems that...

HARRIS: Hey, Matt, we've got to sneak away for a break. Can you stay right there, and we'll come back to you in a second?

FRONDORF: Sure.

HARRIS: All right. You stay there, Matt. Folks, you stay there as well. We are back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Back to San Antonio. Live pictures here, thanks to our affiliate KSAT. And also thanks to Matt Frondorf for taking time to tell us what he saw. Matt works in a building not far from this scene, this scene near Commerce and Navaro (ph) in downtown San Antonio, where at least part of the building has collapsed. We're just getting a better clarification of what actually might have fallen from Matt Frondorf.

Matt, for those who are just joining us, give us again a rundown of what it was that you saw and heard.

FRONDORF: I was down on the sidewalk around the corner from the building, and I heard kind of a loud boom, and went down to Commerce Street -- it was probably another 100 yards to the corner -- and saw that pig pile of rubble out into the street where a wall, the facade on this old building, had collapsed.

HARRIS: And we're looking at live pictures, and we're seeing firefighters there walking on top of the pile there that's on the sidewalk. We're also seeing them on what looks like the first floor of the building, which may be the only floor of this building. And they're going through hand by hand and picking some of this rubble out and throwing it.

We knew from what we had heard, Matt, there were a number of construction workers inside, and you say you walk past this scene on a regular basis. How many people would you see inside working at one time? Do you know?

FRONDORF: I don't know that I've ever done a ahead count. They had a plywood barrier up along on the sidewalk with little peepholes, but it was kind of hard to see the whole scene inside of the building because of that.

HARRIS: OK. What we're getting is we know at least three people have been hurt. We're seen two taken off on stretchers. But we're also hearing now from wire reports that there may be three more people trapped inside.

Matt, you're also see in the center of the picture, if you're looking here, folks, near the top of the screen, a bus, a city bus. And Matt, you say this bus was actually damaged as well by some of this falling debris.

FRONDORF: It's the entire right side of the bus, which was up by the building side of the street, was all damaged. The windows were knocked out. Two or three windows knocked out -- and holes in the sides of the bus and the front windshield bashed in some. But I don't believe any of the riders were injured.

HARRIS: That would be good to hear. That would be good to know.

FRONDORF: What I was going to mention is in talking to the people in our building that have been here for awhile, they said that just coincidentally, the building across the street, across Commerce Street from the building that collapsed today, had a facade like a 10- story facade collapse and kill a person several years ago, when it was being demolished and replaced with another building.

HARRIS: Was that building also being gutted the same way this one was?

FRONDORF: I wasn't there at the time. I don't know. But apparently so. Apparently, they were trying to save one of the walls, and it collapsed on a passerby.

HARRIS: I would imagine this has got to be a real tricky job considering the fact these are all very old buildings. From what we've been hearing, these buildings are all about 100 years old or so. Is that what you know?

FRONDORF: They are older buildings. I don't know if they're exactly 100 years old, but -- the building we're in is from the '20s, and that's sort of typical for some of the old buildings up and down Commerce Street.

HARRIS: Here's hoping that they're able to at least save that back wall and keep any other damage like this from occurring on the Riverwalk. That would be quite destructive. That Riverwalk...

(AUDIO GAP)

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