Questions arise over deck collapse


NORTH BAY VILLAGE, Fla. — The morning after a deck suddenly collapsed at the popular Shuckers Waterfront Grill Thursday night, spilling debris and dozens of terrified patrons into Biscayne Bay, North Bay Village officials began sifting through the splintered aftermath in search of answers.

“At this moment everything is still under investigation,” said interim Village Manager Jenice Rosado. “We have a building official out there at the moment looking at everything. We will have a meeting to regroup and determine where everybody is at.”

The wooden patio at the Miami waterfront institution cracked, split in a V-shape and plunged several feet with a roar into shallow waters as Miami Heat fans cheered just minutes before halftime of the team’s NBA Finals game against the San Antonio Spurs. As many as 100 people were on the deck, located behind the Best Western Plus on the Bay Inn & Marina, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

Bartenders dove into the water to rescue patrons. Customers ran while others rushed to pull others out of the wreckage. Fire rescue crews searched the Bay after receiving frantic phone calls that loved ones might be missing. The incident attracted national attention.

“We share our concerns for all who were injured tonight at Shuckers restaurant,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said in his postgame comments.

Police and 50 fire-rescue units from around Miami-Dade rushed to the scene after the sudden collapse. Two dozen were injured, and 15 were transported to various hospitals, two of them in serious condition, Fire Rescue spokeswoman Griselle Marino said Friday morning.

A Jackson Memorial Hospital spokeswoman said Friday morning that only one patient remained in the hospital, and that person had requested privacy.

Multiple air rescue units also were called to the scene. 79th Street was shut down. The deck’s official capacity was not immediately known.

Following sunrise Friday, a few North Bay Village police officers milled about outside the restaurant. A U.S. Coast Guard boat trolled the water behind. Some curious to see the wreckage came by boat and jet ski to have a look.

The deck sagged into the Bay, pulled away from the main Shuckers building on one end and descending from a warped sea wall on the other. Water pooled in the center. Deck chairs, umbrellas and potted palm trees were strewn about.

Rosado said there are a lot of unanswered questions, such as the last time the deck was inspected, or whether there’d been any work done recently.

“We don’t have any idea yet,” she said. “That’s part of what we’re looking into this morning. There’s a lot of departments that need to coordinate information.”

Making the day tougher for city workers, the entire administration was working from a makeshift office across the street from city hall. Inspectors recently found a problem with air coming from city halls air conditioning units and forced everyone out of the building.

Workers had to shuttle back and forth to find records, even building permits and inspection notices that were being requested.

Before the chaos Thursday, inside the crowded restaurant, Miami Beach resident Peter Zalewski was watching the game. He said families that didn’t want to be near the bar had taken tables on the patio area that later collapsed.

“There’s like a rumbling and then a short time later, everybody just disappeared,” he said. “All the tables just sort of disappeared and then suddenly this whole burst of dust came inside the restaurant.”

He said many people initially panicked, running toward the exit because they didn’t know what was going on. Others rushed to pull strangers out of the water and debris. Tables with umbrellas turned dangerous as people who fell were covered in the umbrellas and hitting their heads on wood. Many people who he saw had scrapes, bruises and lacerations on their heads.

He said some people were able to get out of the water but jumped back in to move tables, chairs, umbrellas and other items so other people could escape.

“Most of the people were just calling out, ‘Is anybody missing, is anybody missing?’ You just kept hearing that over and over and over.”

He said there was chaos for about 10 minutes before the first police officers arrived, followed eventually by fire-rescue workers from a nearby station.

As helicopters circled over the scene, rescuers carried people away on stretchers, one after another.

Chris Volz, 39, said he was sitting at the western end of the bar, about 10 feet from where the deck gave way.

“Everybody’s watching the game. It sounded like a freight train, then everyone was gone. The deck went down like a V.”

He said it happened in a split second and that no one had a chance to get away.

Bartenders were diving into the water to help rescue patrons. Fire trucks pulled to the water’s edge and extended their ladders to help patrons climb to safety.

Shuckers lost power when the collapse happened, casting victims and rescuers alike into the dark.

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Ernesto Reyes, a regular at the eatery on Miami Heat game days, had pulled up to the “last open parking spot” at the restaurant when he heard a loud cheer, then a roaring sound followed by screams as the deck patio collapsed in up to six feet of dark water.

“I ran inside and saw people in the water everywhere. I started pulling out chairs and tables and helping them get out; Many were in shock. They were just standing in place as if they couldn’t believe what had just happened to them.”

Other were in a panic, he said.

“It was a very chaotic scene.”

He helped a young mother with a large gash on her head and a baby in her arms, a young woman who lost her lower teeth and a young man trapped by heavy tables.

Reyes, 36, a paralegal who lives nearby thanked his boss for keeping him late at work at Kent Harrison Robbins.

“I would have been on that deck. This is my favorite place to watch the Heat; there is always a big crowd here.”

Mayra Samubio, 40, of Orlando, who had gone to dine at the restaurant on her first vacation in North Bay Village and was just about to enter the balcony when it collapsed.

“I saw a lot of people crying and very scared. Good thing there weren’t that many children on the deck.”

By 11 p.m., a triage unit had been set up in the parking lot, and victims were still being removed from the water.. Traffic on the 79th Street Causeway was closed off in both directions.

Police and rescue units from North Bay Village, Miami-Dade County, Miami, Miami Beach and El Portal were on the scene within minutes.