Montreal authorities worked to restore calm around a collapsed underground parking garage in Saint-Laurent where a man died Wednesday after his vehicle was crushed by a large slab of concrete.

The concrete floor 'caved in, sort of like a pancake.' —Aimé Charette, Montreal Fire Department

The man, who worked for a courier company, was trapped in the driver's seat of his vehicle for several hours Wednesday morning and remained unresponsive while emergency crews worked feverishly to free him, police said. 

Firefighters tried to jack up the slab of concrete and used a circular saw to cut into his vehicle, but the man was declared dead at the scene midday.

Police said the man, described as in his 30s or 40s, was heading out for his morning delivery run when an entire second floor of the underground three-storey garage collapsed, dropping a giant slab of concrete on the floor where he was parked.

The floor, measuring about 30 metres by 30 metres, "caved in, sort of like a pancake," said Aimé Charette, operations chief with the Montreal Fire Department. "It fell as if you'd just cut out a piece."

The collapse sounded like a sonic boom, eyewitnesses said.

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It took emergency workers about four hours to reach a man trapped under the rubble of a collapsed underground parking lot. ((CBC))

Windows in the apartment building above and adjacent to the garage rattled when the subterranean concrete floor came crashing down at 8:47 a.m. at 135 Deguire St., in the borough of Saint-Laurent.

Some residents living on the lower floors of the apartment building said they felt it shaking around the time of the collapse, CBC journalist Nancy Wood reported from the scene.

Authorities rushed to evacuate a nearby highrise building, transporting about 500 residents to a local sports centre, and relocated children and staff from an adjoining daycare to a seniors residence down the street.

No other injuries were reported.

Building safety is paramount: mayor

Crowds of onlookers watched as firefighters combed through the debris with the help of police dogs in search of any other possible victims. Fire department authorities confirmed there were no other victims late Wednesday afternoon, before handing over the investigation to police.

After visiting the collapse scene, Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay indicated the city's priority is to ensure the security of surrounding buildings, to determine "when people can return home," he said. "But that won't be in the next few hours."

Describing the collapse as a "tragedy," Tremblay said he watched the victim's body be removed from the debris, before being transferred to the morgue. "I met with people he worked with," Tremblay said. "They're traumatized. They want to know what happened."

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The floor "caved in, sort of like a pancake," said Aimé Charette of the Montreal Fire Department. ((CBC))

Provincial inspectors will visit the privately owned building, and it is their responsibility to make sure standards are respected, Tremblay added.

Canadian real estate firm Cap Reit, based in Toronto, owns the property but declined to comment on the collapse.

CBC Television reporter Nancy Wood said several people who work in the area told her they've noticed problems with the parking garage over the past several weeks, including cracks and water leaks.

The 17-storey apartment building, named Joie de vivre, rents out apartments ranging from $500 to $760 per month, with parking spots starting at $45.

The victim's employer, Medic Express, parked its fleet of cars in the underground parking lot.

Political leaders react to accident

Quebec Premier Jean Charest expressed his condolences to the victim's family. "It's very sad when these things happen, for the family of the victim and for loss of life, and that's the first thought that comes to my mind," he said, during a campaign stop.

Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont has also expressed his sympathy for the victim's family, saying his thoughts are with the man's parents and relatives.

The incident calls for a complete investigation, he added. "There certainly will be an inquiry to understand what happened, what might be related to construction or security," Dumont said. "Politically, the thing we can do is thorough inquiries to understand why, and make sure it [isn't] repeated."

Corrections

  • The slab of concrete that fell was 30 metres by 30 metres, not 30 square metres as originally reported.
    Dec 18, 2008 10:57 AM ET