“It felt like an earthquake”

What caused the wall collapse? That's still in dispute.

Roger DuPuis//May 9, 2016

“It felt like an earthquake”

What caused the wall collapse? That's still in dispute.

Roger DuPuis//May 9, 2016

Roger DuPuis

Howard R. Henry is caught between a rock and a hard place.

The owner and founder of Howard Tire & Auto now has a gaping hole and cracked walls in the upper warehouse of his Cameron Street business after the wall of an adjacent hillside came crashing down onto the structure Thursday afternoon.

For now, a tarp will keep rain out of the largest hole, where bricks and steel lie exposed to the daylight. City officials said Henry can continue to use part of the 12,000-square-foot building, but he will have to remove thousands of tires from the damaged area and store them somewhere else, a challenge he was working through today.

With damage and reconstruction likely to run a million dollars or more, Henry doesn’t even know how soon he can begin to rebuild.

With ownership of the damaged wall in dispute, tons of mud and rock and a damaged car still lie in a heap at the back of his building, after a parking lot next to The McFarland apartment building plummeted when the wall gave way.

As reported by PennLive, Mayor Eric Papenfuse said last week that three property owners have an interest in the area around the wall: Henry, the owner of the McFarland building and Hoa Le, who owns an unoccupied parcel behind Henry’s building.

What caused the collapse?

With the landslide following days of rain, his insurance company has said they may not pay out damages if the incident was caused by an “act of God.”

Henry believes it was anything but.

He said that the state Department of Transportation poured thousands of gallons of water onto the bridge last year to cure concrete as part of a $12.2-million renovation project, which wrapped up in December. That water could be seen flowing onto the wall, Henry said, and he believes it weakened the 107-year-old structure.

He also said he complained to PennDOT about the wall’s condition last summer.

PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny, who spoke to CPBJ for an earlier story about the bridge today, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Henry’s recent statements.

Penny said PennDOT officials inspected the bridge to ensure its structural integrity following the collapse, and as part of that process determined that the collapsed wall was not connected to the bridge, which is supported by its own “U-wing” walls.

“We don’t own any of it. It’s outside the right-of-way for the bridge,” Penny said this morning.

Henry argues that whether or not the collapsed wall supported the structure, it was part of the bridge.

“They can say it’s not for support, but they can’t say it was not a wing wall,” Henry said. “It was built at the same time. Look at the old pictures. It was built with the bridge.”

His business finally reopened on Monday after closing on Thursday following the collapse.

“It felt like an earthquake,” Henry said.

The upper warehouse is part way up the slope, with High Strength V Twin motorcycle repair shop occupying the street level space. The motorcycle shop also had to close for several days, Henry said.

He said the main part of his own tire shop, also on the ground level and away from the landslide, was not damaged.

Founded nearly 20 years ago, when Henry was going through a divorce, the business employs 15 people.

“I believe God helped give me all this,” Henry said, gesturing around the shop, where a picture of Jesus Christ hangs in the reception area.

“But he did not cause this collapse.”