A home on the 700 block of Mercy Street in the Wharton section of South Philadelphia collapsed early Tuesday afternoon, spilling rubble and construction materials onto the street and damaging at least two parked vehicles. The collapse at 719 Mercy St., which was under construction, also caused the collapse of neighboring 717 Mercy St., which was vacant. Karen Guss, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, confirmed to the Review that no injuries were reported.
However, Guss stipulated that her department shut down a different contractor in 2019 for “exceeding a permit” – in part by doing unauthorized digging.
“Theoretically, part of the purpose of the currently active permit is to fix problems that may have been caused by that unauthorized digging,” she said in an email. “So while it seems clear that problematic digging was done at this property, L&I can’t say right now who was responsible for what.” However, the department is currently investigating whether the contractor conducted unauthorized and improper basement digging and whether that digging caused or contributed to the collapse.
Unconfirmed eyewitness accounts said that construction workers had been digging out the basement for the last four days, according to members of the Riverwards L+I Coalition, a watchdog community group that monitors unsafe construction in the city. The coalition told SPR that “men were seen running away from the structure minutes before it collapsed.”
Removing soil from under the basement is oftentimes evidence of illegal underpinning.
Guss said that what’s left of the property will be demolished and cleaned up later today or tomorrow. Electricity to the block has been turned off and will be restored when safe. PGW is shutting off gas lines to the block as well.
A separate investigation of the collapse is currently underway by the Fire Marshal’s Office.
The Mercy Street collapse is the second house collapse in South Philly in the last three months.