Heavy snow causes Devon St. roof collapse

By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent


It was only a matter of time. And of snow, and ice, and weight.

Last week, it seemed like every local news broadcast included yet another story about a roof collapsing somewhere in New Jersey. Sure enough, on Thursday night, it was Kearny’s turn.

The official calculation of snow depth in Kearny from the storm that began late Wednesday and continued into Thursday was 15 inches.

That near-record amount was, literally, on top of all the accumulated snow and glacial ice still remaining from this exceptionally brutal winter’s previous storms.

According to one report, more snow fell in the town over the past two weeks “than normally does in an entire winter.” Thanks to the freezing temperatures, not much of it was melting.

It appeared inevitable that some Kearny roof, be it flat or pitched, would eventually meet its demise.

The collapse happened at 11:20 p.m. Thursday at a twostory, four-unit building at 742 Devon St., on the northeast corner of Devon and Stewart Ave.

Luckily, no residents were injured, but at least 12 were evacuated, from both the damaged duplex and, as a precautionary measure, from an adjacent building.

This was done, Kearny Police Chief John Dowie explained, because of “the proximity of the buildings and the fact that the second one was the same type of structure” as the one that had suffered the collapse.

KPD Officers Glenn Reed, Jay Balogh and Ben Wuelfing and Capt. Tom Osborne were the first responders on the scene and assisted in the evacuations.

Also on hand were the Kearny Fire Department, under the direction of Deputy Chief Joe Viscuso; KPD Sgt. John Manley of the Office of Emergency Management, and Board of Health representative John Sarnas.

Employees from the Department of Public Works assisted with barricades to keep the streets clear for the emergency vehicles.

“We had been prepared to open the Board of Health building as a shelter” for the displaced tenants, Dowie told The Observer, but this proved unnecessary since they were able to find temporary housing with relatives or friends.

Some vehicles had to be removed from the street, the chief noted, to keep them from being damaged by debris and to allow emergency access.

Officials said there would be a “strict inspection” of the building to determine if its overall stability had been compromised.

By Friday night, more than a dozen roof collapses were reported in the metropolitan area, most of them in North Jersey. The majority appeared to be flat-roofed structures — a supermarket, a department store, a strip mall, a school gym, an office building — though at least one domed roof, at a Waldwick sports complex, was also doomed.

According to reports, many roofs simply cannot support the extraordinary amount of weight to which they have been subjected recently. And when more snow, or rain, falls, the already accumulated wet and heavy mass can become compacted and increase the pressure.

The good news is that, as of press time, no injuries had been reported in any of the collapses.

During a TV interview Friday, the owner of the Devon St. property expressed thanks that no one was hurt there. “It’s just the roof,” he said. “Thank God for that . . . we’re really, really happy for that.”

The Observer Staff