University Village unit evacuated

One fireman died during the evacuation. All students are safe.
MU Police have cordoned off the area immediately around building 707 on Saturday, Feb. 22, following an evacuation at the University Village in Columbia.

Building 707 of University Village was evacuated early Saturday morning due to what MU Alert called a “structural emergency.”

A Columbia fireman, Lt. Bruce Britt, died responding to the incident, according to a fire department news release. Britt, a 23-year veteran of the department, was pronounced dead at University Hospital. MU spokesman Christian Basi said no students were injured.

University Village is owned by the Department of Residential Life and houses graduate students and their families. Approximately 18 residents, including children, live in the 12 apartments, Basi said.

Resident Mehdi Orouji, a graduate student who lives in building 703, said his friend was evacuated from the second floor of 707 early Saturday morning. The two have connected and his friend is safe, Orouji said, and neighbors are scrambling to provide food and clothes until she can return to her home.

“It was early in the morning and she heard a really loud noise,” he said. “Someone had called 911 because he saw cracks in the walls.”

Police arrived 2-3 minutes later, he said, but by that time, the upper balcony had already collapsed.

Orouji received a University Village email that said it could be days until an inspection of the complex is complete and residents can collect their belongings.

Hein Nguyen arrived at about 11:30 a.m. to try to connect with friends — a family of four — who lived in the damaged building. Their apartment, he said was one of the first evacuated. Its walkway had collapsed.

Orouji said emergency workers smashed in windows at the back of each unit to evacuate residents since the walkway was unsafe or no longer present.

“The challenge with University Village is that it was built in the late ’50s and was probably designed to last only 25 to 30 years,” Director of Residential Life Frankie Minor told The Maneater in 2009.

Only building 707 appears to have sustained significant damages at this time. In a statement, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said the university began an inspection of all buildings in the complex Saturday morning. Basi said the university is working quickly to provide residents with temporary housing.

“We are working to accommodate them and provide them with anything and everything they need,” Basi said.

In a later statement, Loftin extended his sympathies and gratitude to Britt and other first responders. No residents or other responders are known to be injured at this time.

At a 2 p.m. press conference, Loftin said the university has finished examining other living facilities and will further inspect other MU buildings Monday.

“We’ve already inspected all residence life facilities belonging to the University of Missouri,” Loftin said. “And beginning Monday, we will in fact look at all facilities owned and leased by the university to ensure their structural tegrity.”

Orouji said most residents at the complex are international graduate students. Many have families. The complex features several swing sets and a volleyball net strung up between two trees in a grassy traffic circle.

Orouji, who has lived in the complex since August, said he is generally satisfied with his unit and the service provided. He has had no problems with maintenance requests, he said, though his building was recently renovated.

His friends who live in the damaged building have not had the same experience, he said. Visitation to their building was often restricted, he said, and maintenance requests were not kept up.

“They’re very strict here, but not very strict about the structure of the buildings,” he said.

Staff Writer Crystal Duan also contributed to this report.

This story will continue to be updated as new information becomes available.

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