A Beverly man today described a harrowing ordeal after he was trapped in a car crushed by the collapsed roof of a parking garage. He said he called his family on his cellphone, telling them he wasn’t sure if he would live out the day.
"God was looking out for us,’’ said Peter Sullivan. Sullivan and Cesar Jimenez of Salem were in a parking garage on the Lynnway in Lynn this morning when a section of the roof, estimated to be 100 feet by 125 feet in size, fell into the building, trapping the men in their car underneath steel I-beams, corrugated steel, plywood, insulation, roofing materials and 3.5 feet of accumulated snow, officials said.
Sitting next to a bed in Massachusetts General Hospital where his friend, Jimenez, lay wearing a neck brace, Sullivan told reporters he had picked up Jimenez on the way to work because he couldn't get his car out of his driveway. The two men work for The Ride, an MBTA service that offers transportation for the elderly and the handicapped
When they got to work, their assignments weren't ready, so they parked in the garage to await instructions.
"We were just sitting there, drinking coffee, thinking how great life was," Sullivan said.
They heard a loud banging noise, which at first they thought was caused by someone working on a lift used to get wheelchairs in and out of vehicles.
"We looked up," Jimenez said. "We saw the roof coming down."
"We heard a couple of loud bangs ... and the whole roof was falling down on top of us," Sullivan said.
At first, each made sure the other had survived.
"I asked Peter, 'How you feel?' He said, 'I'm all right,' " Jimenez said.
The men used cellphones to notify their dispatcher and speak with a lieutenant at the Lynn Fire Department. They also called their families.
Sullivan was briefly overcome with emotion as he talked about those minutes when they realized they were trapped "but we had each other."
"We were doing a lot of praying and we were very emotional when we called our families," Sullivan said.
He said he spoke with his wife and "told her I was in some trouble and I didn't know if I was going to make it."
She comforted him, he said, and they prayed as he and Jimenez waited help to arrive.
"We couldn't see anything until the Fire Department cut off the roof," he said of his car, which was crushed by the collapsed roof. "I was constantly honking my horn."
"You just don't know when you get up in the morning if this is your last day," Sullivan said.
He added, "We were blessed, that's for sure."
Deputy Fire Chief James McDonald said firefighters were alerted to the situation around 5:50 a.m.
A firefighter crawled into the building and by listening for the sound of the vehicle’s horn – which the men were blowing – and their shouted voices, was able to locate them in the tangle.
Outside, firefighters first shoveled off 3½ feet of accumulated snow and then began to cut a 20-foot-by-20-foot hole into the collapsed roof where they believed they would find the vehicle. Once they cut through the construction materials, firefighters cut a whole into the vehicle’s roof and pulled both men out.
“They were upbeat. They were lucid,’’ said McDonald. “They were just looking for access out.’’
The men were among 15 employees of the Greater Lynn Social Services who were arriving for work as drivers The Ride. The agency contracts with the MBTA to provide the service for the region, officials said.
The other employees were inside the parking structure at the time, but all managed to escape unharmed, officials said.
Paul Crowley, executive director of Greater Lynn Senior Services, said the two men trapped inside the vehicle were quickly contacted by staffers via cellphone. Then staffers scrambled to locate three other workers who could not immediately be accounted for.
“There were 30 or 40 tense minutes when we couldn’t locate three employees,’’ Crowley told the Globe this morning. “Until we found out everybody was safe, there was a lot of praying going on.’’
Crowley said they learned that two of the employees were already on the road and the third had taken a vacation day.
Michael Leninti, safety manager for the senior service, said a security camera captured the roof collapse. “It wasn’t a dramatic collapse it was more of a slow sag,’’ said Lentini.
Roger Ennis, Lynn chief building inspector, said today that the collapsed building is unsafe and will be closed until extensive renovations are done. He said the cause of the collapse was clear.
“The cause is excessive snow load,’’ he said, adding there was no sign that the building was structurally flawed. He said the because of the building’s flat roof, and the wind dynamics caused by other structures, the damaged building collected more snow than its neighbors.
“When you get this amount of snow, it just piles up high,’’ he said. “And this is what can happen.’’
He said other buildings in the complex are being inspected to make sure there will not be a repeat. Workers are removing accumulated snow from the other buildings, he said.
In West Bridgewater, portions of a warehouse on South Main Street also collapsed overnight, apparently due to the weight of the accumulated snow.
The facility, run by Brede Expositions but owned by Casey & Hayes, stored mostly rugs for shows, officials said.
George Rizer for The Boston Globe
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more