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December 03, 2017 10:22 PM

Signs Of Progress A Year After Tragedy

It's been one year since the downtown building collapse in Sioux Falls that killed construction worker Ethan McMahon and injured another person.

Thousands held their collective breaths as they watched fire fighters frantically searched the rubble for hours before rescuing a young woman who was trapped underneath.
 
The other part of this story was how the collapse affected nearby businesses that were shut down for safety reasons until their buildings were deemed structurally sound. 

A small crowd that had gathered to watch rescuers cheered as firefighters brought Emily Fodness to the surface and carried her down from the rubble on a stretcher.      

Weeks later, in her one and only television interview, Fodness told Don Jorgensen what it was like to be buried alive and that one moment when rescuers finally reached her. 

"Once Dustin grabbed my hand and told me, 'I got you; I'm not letting go. We're getting you out.' I just started crying, saying, 'Thank you.' I couldn't stop saying thank you, because in a moment when you don't think you're going to live and you're not expecting that, it was a good moment," Fodness said. 

That good moment and all the events from that horrific day still haunt Emily to this day. KELOLAND News reached out to her for another on camera interview, but she respectfully declined saying it might be too much for her to handle. Sioux Falls Fire Rescue also denied a request for an interview because of ongoing litigation surrounding the collapse.

While Emily moved to Texas, downtown Sioux Falls is moving on. A new building is going up on the site where businesses such as the Copper Lounge and the Fodness' apartment once sat. It'll house a Lewis Drug store and Sanford Clinic. It's a sign of progress for those businesses directly impacted by the collapse. 

"The folks upstairs actually felt a little bit of a pull when the building went down," Dustin DeBoer said.

DeBoer, the co-owner of Urban Archaeology, a business near the collapse site says that some people inside connected buildings could feel "a little bit of pull when the building went down."  

"Being connected to that building it was concerning," DeBoer said.

He says firefighters immediately evacuated the area for safety reasons. No one knew for sure if other structures in this aging part of downtown might collapse, as well.  

"They came through and cleared the building and everybody had to stay away for a couple of weeks," DeBoer said. 

For a handful of stores, it was devastating because the holiday shopping season was just getting underway. DeBoer says it changed the perception of downtown. 

"When you have something like that happen in an area, it makes people think they should stay away while emergency crews do their thing. But you know they didn't come back for awhile," DeBoer said. 

Half Baked, a cupcake store just a few doors down, also felt the impact of the collapse in more ways than one.  

"They came in here and said get out because they didn't know if the gas was going to blow or not, so we shut off our oven and vacated the premises," Stuart Daniel said. 

Daniel says they were shutdown for 11 days. They lost a lot of inventory, which had to be tossed out because there was no electricity to keep it cool. During that tumultuous time, structural engineers went business to business inspecting each wall to make sure they were structurally sound before anyone was allowed back inside. 

When Daniel returned, he noticed several cracks on the south wall that are still there today.  

Both businesses feel they've recovered financially from the collapse and although it was a horrible tragedy, they believe a new drug store and clinic will enhance this area by rebuilding the downtown image; bringing in a whole other crowd.  

"These are people who wouldn't normally be walking by my place so I'm excited about that," DeBoer said. 

"I think they want to put more into it, to make it a better place so people want to be down here, because downtown Sioux Falls is awesome," Daniel said. 

Businesses could have been buried by heartache; but instead, they're emerging from the rubble and building a future.
 
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