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Search called off in Philadelphia building collapse

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PHILADELPHIA (CNN) — After hours of climbing over shards of wood, concrete and rebar, hoping to find someone alive in the remains of a four-story building that collapsed in Philadelphia, workers called off their search late Thursday afternoon.

Fire Department Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said officials were “absolutely sure” there were no more victims in the huge pile of rubble.

The scene will be turned over to accident investigators from the police and labor departments and the fire marshal’s office, he said.

Before they ended their work, rescue workers had been overjoyed 13 hours after the collapse Wednesday to find a 61-year-old woman buried in the rubble. CNN affiliate WPVI interrupted regular programming to deliver the astonishing news.

Myra Plekam moved her hand up and moved her body, a WPVI reporter on the scene said, seeming himself amazed by the rescue.

An ambulance raced Plekam to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she was in critical condition Thursday.

“It feels outstanding to be able to pull somebody (out) alive,” said Michael Resnick, the city’s public safety spokesman.

Thursday morning, firefighters — apparently moved by the tragedy — placed flowers at the site.

Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Nutter promised a “wide-ranging” investigation into the collapse that killed six people when the four-story wall of a partially demolished building toppled onto a Salvation Army store.

At a morning news conference in front of the rubble, the mayor said that all the names of those who died will be released Thursday.

But he asked that members of the media respect “humanity time” and hold off trying to contact relatives of the dead because family members are still trying to be the ones to deliver the awful news to their loved ones.

Nutter said the first calls about the collapse came in at 10:43 a.m. Responders were on the scene two minutes later, the mayor said.

Famed prosecutor tours site

Meanwhile, STB Investments, the owner of the collapsed building, issued a short statement through an attorney Thursday.

“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the people affected by this tragic event. Please know that we are committed to working with the City of Philadelphia and other authorities to determine what happened yesterday.”

Philadelphia assistant district attorneys Jennifer Selber and Edward Cameron and district attorney spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson toured the site Thursday.

Cameron specializes in prosecuting people accused of homicides for the city and is well-known nationally for prosecuting abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

CNN asked Jamerson why they were looking at the site.

“It’s way too early to be discussing any aspects of the building collapse,” she answered. “We took a tour of the scene just like the mayor’s office took a tour and the police took a tour. Along with the rest of the city, the entire DA’s office is thinking about and praying for the victims of yesterday’s tragedy.”

Crime scene units also toured the site.

Six patients were taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; two have been treated and released. Aside from Plekam, in critical condition, two women and one man are in stable condition, CNN has learned.

A crane bump, then building swayed

Nutter said late Wednesday night that authorities didn’t know how many people were in the store at the time of the accident.

He was concerned the collapsing wall may have also hit people walking by outside.

Boskie Shah had stopped to watch the demolition work just before the side of the building fell over.

A construction crane bumped the building twice before it swayed, he said.

“The right wall leaned toward 22nd Street and collapsed on the thrift shop.”

Debris spread out, and a dust cloud rose through the air. Shah took a photo and uploaded it to CNN iReport.

Jordan McLaughlin, an 18-year-old student, was walking nearby and said he felt the Earth shake when the wall came down, he told CNN affiliate KYW.

“There was people that actually fell over,” he said. “People started screaming; they ran across the street. There was people inside the building. You heard them scream.”

He immediately went toward the rubble and began working with construction workers to try to pull people out.

We were “just lifting piece by piece” off of people, he told CNN’s Don Lemon on Thursday morning. McLaughlin helped lift two people from the rubble.

Across the street, Ari Barker was in his office. He said he heard “a rumbling, a very unusual sound.”

He rushed to the window to see a plume of dust rising from the debris.

Some saw it coming

“I knew that was going to collapse sometime soon, and it did today,” Patrick Glynn told CNN affiliate WPVI.

“For weeks, they’ve been standing on the edge, knocking bricks off, pieces off. You could just see it was ready to go at any time. I knew it was going to happen. I seen it. I said it 10 times. Ask these guys. Every day, I said, ‘It’s gonna collapse. It’s gonna collapse.’ ”

Minerva Pinto works nearby. She and her co-workers thought the building looked precarious in the days before the collapse.

“We’d all seen in the past week that the building was really unstable because of the demolition,” she told CNN’s iReport.

But city officials said there were no known violations at the site.

“No violations, no complaints that we’re aware of, and all permits were valid,” Nutter said earlier.