TORONTO — A swath of a building’s red brick facade crashed to a Toronto sidewalk during the busy lunch hour Friday, terrifying restaurant patrons and passersby and prompting fears someone was trapped in the rubble.
Emergency crews, cautious not to approach the pile of debris beneath the unstable facade, scrambled to cordon off the area while sniffer dogs were brought in.
After several tense hours, police said Sheriff and Dylan had detected no trace of fresh human scent in the bricks and insulation material on the sidewalk at Yonge and Gould streets.
“We’re pretty confident that there’s no one trapped,” said Sgt. Phil Glavin of the canine unit.
The impact of the noon-hour wall collapse “flipped over” a woman walking on the street, several witnesses said, but there were no serious injuries.
A gaping hole in the bricks of the second-floor facade left the inside drywall exposed as hydro crews cut power to the building.
Byron Silver was coming out of the washroom of the recently opened Tatami sushi restaurant when he heard a crashing noise he initially thought were pots in the kitchen. Then he saw the bricks tumbling down outside.
“I thought the building was coming down and I almost ran back into the bathroom but I couldn’t see anything,” Silver said.
“You could see all the dust ball — it looked like a volcano ball — coming into the door.”
It took about 30 seconds before the dust settled, and frightened patrons were able to leave, uneaten food still on the tables of Tatami and a neighbouring eatery.
Yonge Street, in the heart of the city’s bustling shopping district, was closed to traffic and pedestrians over concerns about the structural integrity of the three-storey building.
“If somebody was under there, they would likely still be under there and dead,” said one police officer as they waited for the sniffer dogs.
Across the road, at a pizza store, Mominul Hoque said there was a “very big noise” as the bricks tumbled, kicking up a blinding cloud of dust.
Apparently, he said, a new sign installed on the facade had begun to lean, before tearing away, bringing a patch about 10 metres by eight metres with it.
City officials said in a release Friday night that renovations to a doorway may have contributed to the collapse.
“A missing lintel may have created a domino effect of falling brick,” the release said.
Two women standing outside apparently managed to duck to safety when the bricks fell, one restaurant patron said.
Kim McKinnon, a spokeswoman for Toronto Emergency Medical Services, said two people were treated for dust inhalation and minor injuries.
Carlos Marquez was stopped at a traffic light on Yonge Street at the corner of Gould when he heard a “bit of a rumble.”
“Then part of the wall just came down,” he said.
“I just got out of the truck to go see if there was anybody under there.”
He then realized what had happened.
“Scary. I thought, whoa, I just saw the whole wall fall down.”