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Deteriorating nails blamed for Emerald Isle deck collapse

Authorities blamed nails deteriorated by years of exposure to the sand, salt and moisture from the ocean for a deck collapse that injured 24.
Authorities blamed nails deteriorated by years of exposure to the sand, salt and moisture from the ocean for a deck collapse that injured 24. jsteimer@charlotteobserver.com

Rusted nails on the deck of a beachfront home gave way Saturday, causing part of it to collapse and injuring 24 people who had gathered for a family photo, according to preliminary findings by local authorities.

The deck was likely up to code when the house was built in 1986, but the nearly 30-year-old nails simply fell apart under the weight of the people standing on a small part of the deck Saturday night, Emerald Isle Town Manager Frank Rush said Sunday.

When the family gathered for the photo shortly before 7 p.m. Saturday, the beach-facing porch collapsed, Rush said. The frame remained intact, as the “floor joists and deck boards simply collapsed,” he said. The victims fell about 14 feet onto the grass below.

Five of the victims remained hospitalized Sunday morning in Greenville and Wilmington, and two were in critical condition. The injuries ranged from minor cuts to multiple bone fractures and concerns of spinal injuries, Rush said. Men and women ranging in age from 5 to 94 were injured. Authorities did not identify them.

Six members of the family, which was renting the property for the week, left the house about 11 a.m. Sunday to return home. “It’s been an awful time for us,” one woman in the group said.

No official inspection has taken place since at least 1998, Rush said during a news conference Sunday. He said that the town is not allowed to conduct regular inspections of rental properties under state law.

“State law says … we can only inspect if we have a complaint,” Rush said.

The inspection in 1998 would have been because of a renovation that took place. The renovation, however, was not on the deck. So it is possible the deck was not inspected even then, he said.

“The responsibility for routine types of inspections rests with the property owners themselves and also with the rental management companies,” Rush said. “I’m sure that folks were looking at that property.”

The house on Ocean Drive is a six-bedroom, five-bath oceanfront home with an elevator and is up for sale for nearly $1.15 million, the Associated Press reported.

Bluewater is the rental management company, according to Rush.

Bluewater issued a statement that said its investigation is ongoing.“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family for the injuries received in this horrible accident,” the statement said.

Rush said that deterioration can happen quickly in Emerald Isle and that the deck does not appear to be poorly constructed.

“We’re in a harsh coastal environment,” Rush said. “Essentially those fasteners just deteriorated over time. … The preliminary review by the building inspector indicates that the deck would have met current construction standards.” The Associated Press contributed.

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