Lawyer for worker’s family says Amazon support columns were inadequate

THE PARENTS OF AUSTIN McEWEN, 26, one of six Amazon warehouse workers killed when a tornado ripped through the company’s warehouse in Edwardsville, Ill. Dec. 10, 2021 are suing the anti-union, e-retail giant, alleging Amazon failed to provide a safe working environment and kept workers on the job long after they should have been evacuated. – Jeff Roberson/AP photo

Edwardsville, IL – The lawyer for the family of an Amazon delivery driver who was killed in the Dec. 10 tornado strike on the warehouse in Edwardsville says supporting columns that were supposed to hold the 115,000 square-foot structure were inadequate and used improperly.

Jack Casciato of Clifford Law Offices, Chicago, represents the family of Austin McEwen, 26, one of six tornado victims. Casciato filed a Freedom of Information request concerning a structural engineer sent by the government to examine and photograph the site.

The engineer reported that the supporting columns had collapsed inward from high winds. “I noted that a considerable number of the columns were not standing and appeared to have been lifted out of the floor,” he wrote.

The support columns are to be anchored to the ground so they can hold up the trusses that are used to secure the roof, Casciato said.

The engineer reported: “I became concerned when I noticed that none of the columns appeared to be ripped or torn from the base. This was especially concerning to me knowing that the International Building Code requires structural members to be secured against uplift from wind loads, among other things.

“Looking at the base of the columns more closely, I could find no weld or bolted connection at the base of any column, but only a bead of what appeared to be some sort of caulk around the column at the finished floor line. We were very concerned about the stability of the remaining walls and suspended steel work.”

Six people died while huddled in a bathroom during the tornado. McEwen, 26, sent text messages to his family saying he was told to return to the warehouse and keep working despite increasing tornado warnings, Casciato said.

“There is no excuse when it comes to the safety of workers and the lives of those who work at Amazon who were unable to protect themselves,” Casciato said in a press release.

Masciato noted that despite ample weather warnings and repeated severe weather alerts as early as the day before, Amazon instructed its employees to continue working through the storm, leaving only moments for workers to seek shelter in inadequate areas.

Employee accounts of the tornado, including some chilling 911 calls that have been made public, express confusion, disorganization and terror inside the facility, he said.

“There was an apparent lack of emergency training, evacuation drills or access to appropriate storm shelters – because they were non-existent,” Casciato said. “The McEwen family is very concerned that this type of tragedy doesn’t happen again to others in Tornado Alley in downstate Illinois or in any other ill-equipped Amazon facilities around the world. They feel that Amazon could have done more to save their son.”

The family is suing Amazon and the construction, design and engineering companies that were responsible for the architecture and development of the warehouse. The family expressed its hopes that this lawsuit brings justice to the families that were affected by the tornado.



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