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Investigations begin in Edwardsville Amazon warehouse collapse

Illinois Gov. J.B Pritzker addresses the Amazon warehouse the collapsed in Edwardsville on Dec. 13. Pritzker is considering if the state needs to update its building codes to accommodate more frequent extreme weather.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
Illinois Gov. J.B Pritzker speaks Monday about the Amazon warehouse that collapsed in Edwardsville on Friday. Pritzker is considering whether the state needs to update its building codes to accommodate more frequent extreme weather.

EDWARDSVILLE — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday he wants a full investigation to determine what happened leading up to and after the collapse of an Amazon warehouse during a tornado Friday night.

Six people died after parts of the 1.1 million-square-foot facility in Edwardsville buckled when the severe storm hit the building.

“This is a tragedy of enormous proportion,” Pritzker said during his second visit to the site. “We have not seen something like this for quite a while in the state of Illinois. And unfortunately, these kinds of storms are happening more and more often.”

Local agencies are already examining if there were any structural issues with the building and how the storm’s trajectory may have affected parts of the warehouse, he added. One particular focus of the governor is if all local building codes were followed.

Amazon officials say the warehouse met all codes.

Pritzker also noted Illinois is seeing more extreme weather, such as the recent tornadoes.

“It makes me wonder whether or not we need to change code based upon the climate change we’re seeing all around us,” he said. “While we cannot prevent natural disasters, we can strive to prevent future tragedies and ensure that all Illinoisans make it home safe at the end of their shift.”

John Felton, Amazon’s senior vice president of global delivery services, said the 46 workers in the building on Friday night correctly followed safety procedures to shelter in the north and south sides of the building.

“There was tremendous effort that night to keep everybody safe,” he said Monday. “There were megaphones, there were alerts that were corresponding with drivers that were coming back.”

The part of the building where workers sheltered was an interior location, but not necessarily one designed to handle extreme weather.

“Generally speaking, it's an area where there are no windows so that it's a safer space to be in the building. It is not a safe room.” said Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel.

She said the six fatalities at the warehouse occurred among the seven people who sheltered on the south side of the building. Nantel added that workers only had a few minutes to find shelter before the tornado hit.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Monday it has opened an investigation into the collapse.

OSHA will have six months to complete its investigation and issue citations or fines if Amazon violated workplace safety or health regulations.

Nantel said Amazon welcomes the investigation from OSHA.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.