Illinois Governor Asks to Update Building Codes in Wake of Amazon Warehouse Tragedy

Six people were killed Friday night when a tornado bulldozed an Amazon warehouse facility in Edwardsville, Illinois, causing the walls to collapse and crushing the victims inside.

Authorities have identified the victims as Etheria S. Hebb, 34, of St. Louis, Mo.; Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis, Mo.; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Ill.; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Ill.; Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville, Ill.; and Austin J. McEwen, 26, of Edwardsville, Ill.

Six victims were positively identified Sunday morning by Madison County Coroner Stephen Nonn. (Credit: KSDK News/KSD-TV)

John Felton, Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Global Delivery Services, said on Monday that 46 people were in the building at the time of the incident, 39 of whom were in the “take-shelter location” on the north side of the building. 

Seven, including the six who died, were on the south side where the walls caved in.

amazon warehouse destruction friday night
Crews clear damage after partial collapse of the Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Ill. (Credit: Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened an investigation Saturday to determine if any structural issues or safety shortcomings contributed to the building’s collapse. Some Illinois leaders have concerns that the building may not have been up to code. Others worry that construction methods for such facilities are not sufficient to protect against frequent tornadoes.

Illinois Building Codes Fall Short of Weather-Related Disaster

Nearly all of the 23 Amazon warehouses in Illinois and Missouri are constructed like the building that collapsed Friday.

The warehouse was built using “tilt-up” construction, a method where steel-reinforced concrete walls are poured flat and raised into position. Like many similar facilities, the building’s roof was made of white membrane covered by thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO).

According to Grace Yan, a structural engineering professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology, walls that are not strongly connected to the roof can fall in, dropping thousands of pounds on people inside. 

Yan says that the walls can be strengthened to better withstand tornadoes, but it’s not required in building codes.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker suggested that current codes aren’t enough to meet the dangers of increasingly severe weather, and he said there will be an investigation into updating building codes “given serious change in climate that we are seeing across the country.”

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