Tue, May 21

Weather wreaks havoc for Valley emergency teams

Clean-up crews were busy at work late Thursday and throughout the day Friday and Saturday in the Verde Valley Plaza.

The mop-up was being done in the Sears store and its immediate neighbor to the east, Always 99 cents & Bargains, the only stores that were closed Friday.

Cottonwood Fire Chief Mike Casson said the call from the Sears store came in at approximately 5:30 p.m. Thursday just as the department was finishing up another storm-related call in the Bridgewater area.

"We got a report of a lightning strike and that the roof collapsed," Casson said. "We didn't know what kind of problems we had when we got here ... visibility was so bad we couldn't see inside."

What was originally thought to be a lightning strike was apparently the roof collapsing under and extreme amount of weight due to a build up of rainwater. The collapse left a 20-foot by 30-foot hole in the roof.

Casson told media gathered at the Sears storefront Friday that in the six years he has been in Cottonwood, he had not seen a storm quite like Thursday evening's downpour.

"Not with this much rain in this short a period of time," Casson said.

The work got dangerous for a pair of construction workers inside the Sears store just before noon Friday when a section of the ceiling fell on them. Both workers were taken to Verde Valley Medical Center where at least one, Eric Lively of Cottonwood, was admitted for his injuries. The extent of the injuries and the name of the other injured worker were not available. Lively was in stable condition after his admittance.

While the Sears store suffered the most significant damage, other stores in the plaza had some water damage as well. The entire mall was shut down at about 6 p.m. Thursday for precautionary reasons. Only the two stores remained closed Friday morning.

"We just hear this extreme boom, (then) pop ... In about a half a minute, there was four to six inches of water on the floor," said Jonathan Crawford, a Sears employee who was in the store at the time of the incident. "It was scary. I didn't know where the rest of the people were."

Crawford said there were no customers in the store at the time of the collapse.

Not only did the accumulated rainwater pour into the store, but the automatic fire sprinkler system was damaged, adding more water to the mess. So much water flowed in the Sears store that a customer service counter was moved almost two feet by the flow.

"We're just glad everybody is safe," Crawford said.

Mike Dinielli, store manager for Always 99 cents and Bargains, said there was about one and a half inches of water in his store due to the flooding of the Sears store. He said his store would probably be able to open again by Saturday but that a final decision had yet to be made by noon Friday.

"We're still waiting to hear from the building inspector," Dinielli said.

Casson said the fire department has taken a supportive role in the clean-up operation at the stores and is letting the building inspector determine what needs to be done and when the building will be safe to occupy.

No estimate on the damage was established.

"They are going to have to get their insurance people in here and determine what can be salvaged," Casson said.