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Multiple fatalities after crane collapses at Kelowna, B.C., construction site

Vancouver -

July 13 update: More information will be released by Mounties Tuesday. Developing story here.

VANCOUVER -- The crane collapse that forced an area of downtown Kelowna, B.C., to be evacuated on Monday morning has left multiple people dead, according to authorities.

The accident, which damaged several buildings in the area of Bernard Avenue and St. Paul Street, has also prompted officials to declare a local state of emergency in the Okanagan city.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene in which workers tried to get out of harm's way as the crane was coming down.

"It was the scariest thing I've ever seen," said Miriam Halpenny. "I was talking to another woman who said she saw a man falling from the top."

Hours after the incident, Kelowna RCMP confirmed that more than one person was killed, but said they were "releasing limited information" on the extent of the tragedy, in part because authorities were still working to notify next of kin.

"Not all persons have been properly identified, and so right now, all we can tell you is that there have been multiple fatalities from people in that area," Insp. Adam MacIntosh said.

The crane collapse happened at the Brooklyn construction site run by developer Mission Group. The company described the incident as a "catastrophic failure (in which) a crane fell during the dismantling process."

Mission Group CEO Jonathan Friesen would not confirm how many people had died, but said all confirmed fatalities had been working on the high-rise residential construction project.

"The deceased individuals were working on the site. I can confirm that they were not Mission Group employees,” Friesen said. “That does not change the fact that people died today. So, let's all keep that in mind."

Friesen confirmed more than a hundred people were working on the site at the time of the collapse. He said the crane was contracted from another company but declined to name that business.

“Our corporate priority is, of course, for the safety of all of our workers. And we want them to go home at the end of the day healthy and safe,” he said. “That did not happen today. And so, once again, any words I could come up with pale in the shadow of so great a loss for these families.”

The top of the crane fell from the construction site, striking a neighbouring office building and a senior's home. Part of the crane was left standing.

"Obviously, it had gone through the roof of the building next door and they were desperately trying to get the crane operator out,” said Jorma Jyrkkanen, a civilian who rushed into the area to see if he could help. “They managed to get him out. His face was all covered in blood. And they were screaming get back! Get back!"

Video shot in the moments after the collapse shows one construction worker climbing down the crane tower to a cross beam attached to the building – and then shimmying across to safety.

"It was just nearly like watching a movie,” said Tracy Johnson, who rushed out of her office after hearing the impact. “You don’t really register what he just did until afterwards.”

The 75-meter portion of the crane still standing is precariously attached to the building with some of the support beams clearly twisted and damaged.

The following addresses were evacuated due to concerns about ongoing danger in the surrounding area: 47 - 612 Bernard Ave., 1450 - 1488 Bertram St. and 1441 - 1471 St. Paul St.

In a news release, the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations Centre said the accident scene remained "unstable" as of Monday afternoon. Structural engineers were dispatched to assess the damage and determine what needs to be done to ensure the area is safe.

"Road and sidewalk closures, including barricades, are in place to ensure safety. Residents and visitors are to stay out of the area," the release said.

In an interview with CTV News, Jyrkkanen said staff at the construction site told him six people had been working on the crane at the time of time of the collapse.

“I feel sorry for the families,” he said. “A bad day to have a tragedy.”

In a statement, the construction company expressed similar sentiments.

"Mission Group immediately evacuated the building and emergency crews were dispatched to the site. We continue to work closely with emergency responders to assess the situation," the developer said in a statement.

"Mission Group expresses its deepest sympathy for the families of those affected by this tragedy. We have set up support services to help those in need."

Kelowna RCMP said one person, not affiliated with the construction site, remains unaccounted for, and that officers are working to determine the individual's whereabouts and well-being.

WorkSafeBC has also sent teams to investigate what happened. In a news release, the agency said it would be working to determine "the cause of the incident, including any contributing factors, so that similar incidents can be prevented from happening in the future."

Late Monday, Premier John Horgan expressed his sympathies on social media.

“Devastating news. These workers simply left to go to work this morning but their families will never be able to bring them home,” he wrote. “My sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the workers impacted by this tragic incident in Kelowna.”

Emergency services and an evacuation centre have been activated for those people who are out of their homes as a result of the collapse.

Police and city officials urge everyone to avoid the area until the state of emergency is lifted so first responders have room to safely go about their work. 

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Ben Miljure Top Stories

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