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HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) — A new report reveals that Monday’s deadly house collapse in Hamilton Township, Mercer County was caused by long-term water damage.
An engineering report states that long-term water penetration through an exterior wall of the basement caused a block to disintegrate, which resulted in the basement walls to collapse. According to the report, the foundation of the nearly 100-year-old house was made up of blocks that was an early form of concrete that was much more sandy and which inspectors were able to break apart with their bare hands.
“We believe chronic, long-term water penetration through the east side exterior wall led to the extensive deterioration and crumbling of at least one course of block probably over a wide area,” the report reads.
It continues, “We speculate that this disintegrating block gave way yesterday morning leading to several floor joists slipping off their supports and directly resulting in the catastrophic collapse of the building.”
The report, which was delivered to Hamilton Township Mayor Kelly Yaede, also states that the house collapse was difficult to predict.
“In this case, the engineer that we did retain stated that there were no outward appearances. The damage to the brick over time was not something you could detect,” said Yaede.
Authorities say 38-year-old Tika Justice died in the rental house collapse on the 1800 block of South Broad Street. Her 16 and 20-year-old daughters were injured and are in stable condition at Capital Health.
“They found the deceased victim on top of the daughter, the 16-year-old, who was subsequently removed,” said Hamilton Fire Capt. Ferdinand Mather. Justice was shielding her daughter from debris when she died.
Just five years ago, the house was inspected so Justice could get a certificate of occupancy.
“The CFO was granted, the inspection was conducted and this landlord followed all the laws of our tenant requirements,” said Yaede.
Neighbors are concerned for their own safety following the collapse. Rosie Valdez wants a professional to look at her home which is about the same age as the house that collapsed.
“See if the property is OK, if there are any leaks because, as of now, where we live doesn’t show any signs but you never know,” she said.
At least one thing neighbors can do is have their basements checked for moisture. According to the engineering report, the collapsed home had a strong smell of mold from long-term water exposure. At this point, the victim’s landlord is not facing any fines or charges.