Remembering Bridgeport's L'Ambiance Plaza Collapse, 31 Years Ago
Thirty-one years ago this week, several floors of L’Ambiance Plaza, an apartment building under construction in Bridgeport, collapsed, killing 28 construction workers and injuring 22 people.
On Monday, the City of Bridgeport held a ceremony at the site's memorial to honor those who died. State and local officials were in attendance, as well as union members who lost colleagues in the disaster.
Lewis "Buddy" Holland, a retired ironworker with Local 424, was scheduled to report to the site on Monday, April 26, 1987. He never made it there. The building collapsed the Friday before. More than three decades later, Holland is back at the site, looking over the names of the deceased, which are engraved into the memorial. One of them was his partner from his apprenticeship program.
“It hurts. It hurts to see all those names. But when you are close to some of the names, it hurts. And then you have to ask yourself why did it happen first of all, and why was my name not there? It would have been a bad day for my family.”
Ebong Udoma remembers that day, too. He was at the scene reporting for the Connecticut Post. He’s now WSHU’s senior political reporter and he recently spoke with WSHU's Dan Katz about his experience.
Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Ebong, thanks for joining us.
Take us back to the moment when you first heard about the accident.
I don’t remember when I first heard about the accident. I know when I first heard the sound of the collapse. I was in the newsroom. It was early afternoon, and all of a sudden there was this a really loud sound, like an explosion. And from State Street, where the Connecticut Post was located at the time, we had windows that look out, and you could actually see L’Ambiance Plaza. And you could see, it seemed, there was a lot of smoke rising from the building, and of course the photographers were the first to arrive and run out, and I think I was dispatched around 4:00 to go out to the site. We had round-the-clock reporters covering the scene.
It was a really big story for you, at the time, a young reporter with the Connecticut Post. This was a national story.
This was my first national story, the first national story I ever worked on, and by Sunday when I got there, there were satellite trucks all over there, so many reporters...
You followed this event from start to finish to the aftermath. What happened and were there any changes put in place because of this?
Well, we can start first from the construction. It was a unique construction technique that was used. It was called the lift slab. It was a 16-story building, and each floor was laid on the ground. Basically the workers would pour the concrete on the ground, and then they’d raise each floor up with what were called hydraulic jacks. And then the slabs would get fastened to the steel columns. So I think they had gotten to the seventh floor when all of a sudden, it collapsed on itself, with workers on floors below...That’s why the death toll was so high.
Was anyone held responsible for this in any way?
Initially OSHA had a moratorium on this kind of building, construction, and there was a study done, but eventually the federal prosecutor in Connecticut recommended no charges be filed. They didn’t have enough evidence to bring any type of claim against the construction company.
For you personally, this was also a story that affected you in your career because you got arrested covering this event.
First—and only—arrest as a reporter [laughs]. What happened was, initially the first day we got to the construction site, we could, the reporters could move around freely because it was mainly local reporters covering it that day. I took a day off...then Sunday, by then, it was a national story. There were satellite trucks, there were reporters from all over. Bridgeport Police was pretty much a local police department that had never handled any event on this level before. And I got arrested for crossing the street to try to get to the site. I was telling the police officer that I was a reporter, and he didn’t want to hear that. I said, “Look, let me pull out my ID, and I’ll show you,” and he said, “Nope, turn around, put your hands behind your back,” and he cuffed me and took me downtown.
Were you surprised at all, coming from Nigeria…
Well, I’ll tell you what happened. When my father heard that I had been arrested, he called me and he said, “Look, if you’re going to be arrested in America, you might as well come home to Nigeria.” [laughs] All the reporters that were arrested got the charges dismissed.
So looking at this from a wider view, was there any outcry when there weren’t any criminal charges brought against the construction company?
Yes, there was a lot of anger, especially from the unions who were involved and their families, but it actually did bring more focus on safety of the lift slab technique. And even though the moratorium was over in ’94, I don’t see too many construction sites using that technique anymore.
Ebong Udoma is WSHU’s senior political reporter. He was talking to us about his time reporting for the Connecticut Post, 31 years ago Monday when several floors of the L’Ambiance Plaza in Bridgeport collapsed and killed 28 construction workers and injured 22 people.
Ebong, thanks so much for sharing your story.
Thank you so much, Dan.
The L'Ambiance Plaza collapse remains the worst construction disaster in Connecticut's history and one of the worst in the United States.