Emerald Isle fire chief: Too many people on deck caused collapse

A deck collapsed at a North Carolina beach house as a family got set to take a group photo Saturday evening, leaving at least 14 people injured with two of those in critical condition, authorities said.

“I was told they were taking a family photo on the deck. That’s what brought it down,” Emerald Isle Fire Chief Bill Walker told the Observer.

A spokeswoman at a nearby hospital later said 20 people, including a young child, were rushed to that one hospital alone, indicating the injury total was higher.

Emerald Isle Police Chief Jeffrey Waters said an emergency call came in at 6:59 p.m. Saturday and first responders arrived within minutes at the oceanfront home in that barrier island resort community, which was packed with beachgoers for the long holiday weekend.

"The family was on the deck preparing to take a family photo when the event occurred," the police statement said.

It added that first responders from Emerald Isle immediately began triaging the injured on arrival because of the numbers of those hurt. "Due to the number of casualties involved, neighboring agencies were called in to assist in transporting and dealing with the victims," the statement added.

Police said at least two people were in critical condition of the 14 that agency reported as injured. In addition, the police news release said another victim was airlifted to a New Hanover Regional Medical Center but there was no immediate report from that hospital on that person's condition.

Walker told The Associated Press by phone that a deck area he estimated to be about 12 feet by 12 feet gave way from about 10 to 12 feet above the ground.

"It was a one-story house on pilings," he said, adding many victims were found concentrated around the site of the collapse.

"There was a lot of people ... but luckily we pulled together and (the emergency operation) went like clockwork," he added. "Our department was the first department in," he said, adding he ran a "command and action center" to coordinate fire, police and emergency medical personnel called in from several nearby communities.

He said there may have been more people present than the 14 reported injured by police but he didn't count them. He added that injuries ranged from minor cuts and abrasions to more severe injuries that appeared to include broken bones.

Walker said a specialized mass casualty bus also had been brought in and that it took at least eight of the victims to one nearby hospital.

He said such a deck collapse was uncommon in his own recollection. "It's been about 10 years since we've had one of these so it's not an everyday occurrence," he said.

A spokeswoman at Carteret General Hospital in neighboring Morehead City said 18 people were transported by emergency medical crews to that hospital a few miles away, and two others came in by private car.

"We saw a total of 20 patients from the accident. Of those twenty, six are in the process of being sent out to three other hospitals," said the spokeswoman, Tonya Fluellen, adding that reflected the seriousness of the situation. She told AP that the injured ranged from serious to critical.

"We've seen a little bit of everything. I can't give you a whole lot of detail but we've seen some orthopedic injuries," she added, citing patient privacy laws. She declined to elaborate further on a young child she said was injured.

Identities and relations of those injured weren't disclosed. It also wasn't initially clear if a number of the injured were from one family.

Other initial news reports stated that as many as 21 people were injured in the incident.

Police said in their statement that the cause of the collapse wasn't yet known.

Emerald Isle is one of several resort communities lining barrier islands tucked along the coast of the southeast corner of North Carolina. Police gave an address for the collapse as being a home, like many others, perched side by side in order rows just yards from a wide beach fronting the surf.

The house is on Ocean Drive in the Carteret County town, WNCN reported.

Emerald Isle is on the Bogue Banks barrier island of the southern Outer Banks, about 270 miles east of Charlotte.

The Observer’s Joe Marusak and Katherine Peralta contributed to this report.