WOONSOCKET – For a few moments, it felt like a train was hurtling through the neighborhood as Christine Lanoue shoveled the heavy, slushy snow in front of her home at the end of First Avenue yesterday.
“I heard a big rumbling and the whole ground was shaking,” she said. “I thought my house was collapsing.”
It wasn't her house that collapsed, but a sizable chunk of the vacant Seville Dyeing Co., a onetime textile finishing plant across the street from Lanoue's house. The growing weight of a deep layer of rain-laden snow was finally too much to bear for the 37,500-square-foot, corrugated steel structure, which fell into a heap of unrecognizable rubble about 10:15 a.m.
When she realized what happened, Lanoue rushed over to the crumpled mass of metal and splintered wood to see if anyone was injured. But the police later determined no one was inside the building, which is owned by Robert Picciotti of Seville Associates, according to city records.
The Seville episode was the worst weather-related structure collapse in the city yesterday, but it wasn't the only one. A large multi-bay garage at Dulude Avenue and Elm Street came down about 2:15 p.m. No one was injured, but several cars parked inside were heavily damaged. A smaller garage collapsed on Elm Street the day before.
A number of buildings around the state have collapsed under the weight of several storms' worth of unmelted accumulation since Tuesday, but Seville is believed to be the largest so far. The single-story, flat-roof structure measured 150-by-250 feet and is believed to have been built in the 1970s as an addition to the main mill at 229 First Ave., parts of which date back to the 1890s.
The Seville complex is spread across a 4.5-acre parcel of land with a long stretch of frontage on the Blackstone River. Tax records peg the worth of the property, with 187,426 square feet of industrial space, at $875,100.
The building has been vacant for at least two years, after the struggling manufacturing company filed for receivership, according to Mayor Leo T. Fontaine. Seville's holdings included Dorado Processing, a large brick facility on River Street which also closed down in the receivership.
Fontaine said the two companies owe “hundreds and hundreds of thousands” in overdue taxes and utility fees which the city has been unable to collect because of the receivership petition. He said the city recently hired an outside lawyer, Pierre Rondeau of Woonsocket, to research the status of the companies' assets.
After the building collapsed, the mayor said the city dispatched a hazardous materials assessment team from the Woonsocket Fire Department to make sure there is no danger to the public from chemicals that may have been stored at the site. He said the city is trying to contact Picciotti, a Narragansett resident, but they had been unable to reach him as of press time Wednesday.
Fontaine said code enforcement officials have been concerned about the deteriorating condition of the building for some time.
“There was actually a condemnation letter sent out two years ago, but Picciotti asked for a delay on it in an attempt to try to fix and work on the property, but he's never followed through on that.”
Fontaine said officials are still evaluating whether the rubble poses a threat to public safety. He said that if the site needs to be secured or any demolition is required, it would be the owner's responsibility to perform the work.
“It's private property,” said the mayor. “Our abilities are limited.”