Search is on to find cause of Kansas City hotel disaster

Over the next several weeks, at least five separate investigate teams will try to find out why two walkways collapsed in what is being called the worst hotel disaster in US history.

The findings can do little to blunt the immediate tragedy of the accident at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City July 17, which killed at least 113 persons. But hotel and govrnment officials are hopeful that discovering the cause or causes will aid in preventing other disasters in the future.

Experienced contractors, hotel designers, insurance company executives, and other experts say many nagging questions remain to be answered:

* Why weren't the thick steel rods that helped suspend the walkway from the ceiling abel to keep it from falling once it started to crack?

* Was the walkway not designed to hold the number of people who were on it? If so, why didn't hotel officials know about this?

* Is it true that one of the workman who helped build the "skybridges" raised doubts about their safety shortly after the hotel opened on July 1, 1980, but that his repeated warnings went unheeded?

Although it will be some time before any of these questions are answered, some experts conjectured that the primary cause might have been inappropriate use of the walkways as dance floors, putting a great deal of extra stress on them.

Nevertheless, Phillip Abrams, deputy general assistant secretary for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), says that whatever the investigators find, one thing is certain: In the future, tougher stress standards will be required for many components in new buildings in the United States. He said, however, that he was speaking as a former contractor and builder, not in his capacity at HUD.

Hotel officials have refused to speculate on the causes of the collapse while their investigation is pending. The 40-story luxury hotel has been closed for business indefinitely.

Only hours after the broken walkways crashed, it became apparent that a lot more people might have perished had it not been for the resourcefulness of hotel guests, firemen, and police.

The "entire metropolitan area responded," said Kansas City Mayor Richard L. Berkley. Hundreds of people whose relatives were not in the hotel disaster thronged local health-care facilities to try to ease the emotional burdens of the injured; others are offering to house and feed the victims' families; still others risked their own safety trying to help the injured.

A crowd estimated at more than 1,500 people had gathered in hotel's main lobby for the hotel's regular Friday night "Tea Dance." As the music played, a concrete walkway on the hotel's fourth floor, in the kind of "atrium" for which the Hyatt chain is famous, began to sway. A crack formed toward the center of the walkway and within seconds it buckled and crashed into a second-floor walk way, with both falling to the lobby floor.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.