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Sunday, May 19, 2024


Further Collapse Possible at Crab House


By Jack Fichter

DIAMOND BEACH — Erma Fire Chief Warner Muller, on Monday, told the Herald that diners in the Crab House Restaurant reported the collapsing floor made a sound like a series of gunshots. He said an initial call reported a collapsing floor and gunshots.
No one fell all the way through to sand below the restaurant. During high tide, there is water beneath the restaurant.
Muller said no serious injuries were reported. He said nine persons were treated at the scene.
Nine other persons transported to Cape Regional Medical Center, Court House, where they were treated and released.
They were: Carol Werwinski, 42, of Philadelphia; Betty Dewitt, 50, of Trumbaursville, Pa.; Helen Murphy, 64, Philadelphia; Chitlyn Kucher, 18, Quakertown, Pa.; John Kemp 45, of Philadelphia; an 11-year-old juvenile from Philadelphia; Edward Giamantonio, 61, West Chester, Pa.; Jackie Butkiewicz, 43, Monroe; and Cindy Dougherty, 48, of Edison.
The collapse stopped short of the kitchen. It trapped a server in a walk-in refrigerator after he went looking for a side order of horseradish for a table.
“It was prime time, the place was loaded,” said Muller.
He said the firefighters’ first job was to evacuate everyone from both buildings. He said he called State Police Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue Unit and Atlantic City Fire Departments Collapse Unit.
“If there was entrapment, Atlantic City Fire (Department) could have come down, shored the building up until we could get in there and do the rescue,” he said.
He said all in all, rescue efforts worked very well.
Muller said the Crab House may collapse in on itself because it now lacks structural support. The roof is bowed in sections.
State Police engineers told Muller the building will come down on its own “being that everything underneath is already gone.”
Muller said the Crab House was holding its own weight via the walls.
“It’s just kind of hanging there, pulling itself down,” he said.
A question in Muller’s mind; if the Crab House collapses, will Two Mile Landing also collapse? He said the restaurants appear to have had addition after addition constructed over the years.
A second-floor apartment connected to the Crab House has been vacated.
Muller said air conditioning units may need to be removed from an area of sagging roof between the two restaurants. He questioned whether it was safe to put a man up there to cut the units loose.
Muller said the floor is sloping in the entrance foyer.
He said when he arrived, people were pouring out of the restaurants. He said some diners ran towards the parking lot, some in the opposite direction onto a deck.
“It was just pure chaos,” he said. “We had injuries on the dockside, we had injuries in the parking lot, it was just overwhelming for everybody.”
He said the fire company had reports of trapped people and missing persons, which were proven untrue.
Kitchen and restaurant staff members immediately pulled out people who fell into the void.
“They actually did the rescues before we got here,” said Muller.
Lower Township Fire Official David Perry said he believed the Crab House would need to be demolished. He said the incident should “open some eyes for all buildings built on pilings.”
On Monday, kitchen employees were washing garbage cans outside the Two Mile Landing Restaurant.
Crab House Manager Mark Earhart said fish and crabs were being disposed of since water, electric and gas was turned off in the restaurant. He said he was creating an inventory of all lost items.
Earhart said some diners were reluctant to leave because they hadn’t finished eating. Many ate free that night, leaving before their meal checks arrived.
Fire companies responded from Erma, Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, Cape May and Town Bank. Ambulances responded from Middle Township, Stone Harbor, all the Wildwoods, and Cape May, said Muller.
“Everybody cooperated, the assistance was 100 percent,” said Muller.
He said he was grateful for all the mutual effort that was provided.

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