Records show safety concerns with construction at Amazon warehouse hit by tornado

Published: Dec. 26, 2022 at 6:23 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Records show building inspectors found safety concerns as they checked construction at the Edwardsville Amazon warehouse that is being rebuilt after six people died in a tornado.

On Dec. 9, 2021, the warehouse was hit by an EF-3 tornado. The storm ripped off part of the roof, which caused walls to collapse. The warehouse did not have a storm shelter.

Around half of the warehouse was damaged and is now being rebuilt.

News 4 Investigates obtained inspection reports for the new part of the building. Those records show inspectors found some of the columns helping hold up the warehouse were not installed properly and needed to be fixed.

In August an inspector noted that nearly a dozen structural columns, “had either loose or missing anchor bolts.” Those columns are key to the building’s structural safety. Building code in Edwardsville requires columns to be anchored to the foundation.

Within a month, another report showed that inspectors noted the columns were, “repaired.”

According to the latest inspection reports construction at the warehouse meets code.

Amazon stresses the company doesn’t own the warehouse and is leasing the space.

“I think it’s important to remember that we’re a tenant at the warehouse and that the landlord is required to restore the building to its pre-tornado condition, and that’s what he’s doing,” said Amazon’s Director of Global Media Relations Kelly Nantel, during an interview with News 4 Investigates earlier this month.

These latest inspection records are not the first time support columns at the warehouse were questioned. Reporting by News 4 Investigates exposed how an engineer who was called in the night of the tornado, claims he saw support columns that were not properly anchored.

News 4 Investigates continues to ask Amazon for the results of the investigation. When questioned earlier this month, Nantel responded, “You know, we had our own investigation that’s still very much a topic of discussion internally. So it really wouldn’t be appropriate for me to get into the details of it. But I can say again that the building was built to code and it was fully inspected.”

Amazon won’t say if that investigation will be made public.

One thing that is clear is that inspection records at the warehouse changed since the tornado.

When the warehouse was originally built in 2017 the reports were a page long, and included a checklist where inspectors marked what they looked at and if the work passed or failed inspection. None of the public inspection records included notes, test results, or pictures. News 4 also found that many of the inspections were performed by inspectors who work directly for the city.

After the tornado, the public inspection records News 4 Investigates found, include pictures, detailed notes, and test results on things from the walls to the concrete foundation. The majority of the inspections were performed by a third-party company contracted by the city to do the inspections.

City inspectors and representatives for the city declined an interview.

Instead, a spokeswoman sent a statement, saying in part, the difference in records is because of the tornado.

“The goal of both the International Code Council building codes adopted by the City and the inspection process is now, and always has been, to provide buildings compliant with the requirements of the adopted codes. It is through the enforcement of these codes and standards that we ensure quality development and construction.

“If an issue is found at a work site during the inspection process, the issue is addressed, the situation is documented, and the contractor is notified to have the work corrected.

“Understanding the sad significance of the site and the heightened interest, the contractor provided additional documentation as part of the third-party inspections process.

“In routine inspections, more detailed notes and photos are more commonly associated with concerns that have been identified.”

When asked for comment for this story, Amazon declined and sent a statement from Nantel saying:

“Amazon is a tenant of the building and while the landlord is responsible for all aspects of the reconstruction project, we’re keeping a close eye on it. As a result, the landlord or their general contractor are best equipped to answer specific questions about the rebuilding process. We’ll only reoccupy the building when – and if – we have full confidence in its structural integrity.”