- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

CHICAGO (AP) — Natalie Brougham was crowded onto a third-floor porch with dozens of friends early yesterday when the floor dropped out from under them, sending wood and bodies crashing through two other decks to the ground. Twelve persons died, most of them crushed on the porches below.

At least 57 others were injured, authorities said.

“There were people covering me. It was pitch black and people were yelling, ‘I’m dying.’ I was assuming I was going to die,” Miss Brougham, 22, said. “I guess I got lucky and only had two or three people on top of me.”

Miss Brougham walked away with injuries to her hip and shoulder, in pain but alive.

As many as 50 people, most of them in their early 20s, had crammed onto the apartment porch for a party in the city’s affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood when the floor fell at about 12:30 a.m., police said. Seven men and five women, most of them apparently on the porches directly below, were sandwiched between the falling floors and killed, said Larry Langford, spokesman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

“There was chaos,” Chicago Fire Commissioner James Joyce said. “There were people screaming and crying in the alley.”

Partygoers who had been safe inside the apartment said they tried to rescue their friends from the pile of lumber and bodies, while people poured out of a nearby tavern to help.

“They were bloodied and covered in rubble, their clothes were ripped. Women were looking for husbands, men were looking for wives. It was horrible,” said Geraldine Schapira, 33, who lives nearby.

Eleven persons were pronounced dead at the scene, and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that a 12th person was dead on arrival at a hospital.

Hours later, red plastic cups still lined the porch’s railings that hung from the third floor walls, serving as an eerie reminder of just how fast the floor fell.

Most of the people at the party were friends, many of them graduates of New Trier High School in Chicago’s northern suburbs, said Fina Cannon. She had been in the apartment’s kitchen, looking out at the porch when it gave way.

“All of a sudden I saw all these heads going down,” Miss Cannon said. “The floor just dropped out from underneath them. They all went down in unison.”

A lot of people were on the third-floor porch at the time, and others on the second-floor porch below it, Miss Cannon told Chicago television station CLTV.

The Medical Examiner’s Office released the names of eight victims: John Jackson, 22, of Kansas City, Mo.; Katherine Sheriff, 23, of Chicago; Eileen Lupton, 22, of Lake Forest; Henry Wischerath, 24, of Buffalo, N.Y.; Shea Fitzgerald, 19, of Winnetka; Muhammed Hameeduddin, 25, of Chicago; Margaret Haynie, 25, of Evansville, Ind.; and Sam Farmer, 21, of Winnetka.

“It was simply a case of too many people in a small space,” Commissioner Joyce said. He urged people to be careful about safety, particularly with the upcoming July 4 holiday.

Partygoers and emergency workers said all three of the porch floors appeared to have been of new construction. Mr. Langford said the Chicago Building Department was investigating to see if a building permit had been issued for any new porch work.

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