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Bel Air Safeway roof collapses partially under weight of snow

ebutler@theaegis.com

The Safeway grocery store in the Greenbrier Shopping Center in Bel Air will remain closed after a "significant collapse of the roof" from Saturday's blizzard, a county official and a county fire service spokesman said.

Around 3:30 p.m., Saturday the roof over the produce section of the grocery store in the 200 block of Brierhill Drive began to bow, Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, said.

No one was injured, he said.

A Harford County building inspector was at the shopping center Sunday afternoon looking over the building, Cindy Mumby, the county spokesperson, said.

The owner had used a drone to take pictures of the store from above and the inspector looked at those as well as each building in the shopping center, Mumby said, and "there is no evidence of damage to any buildings other than Safeway."

The store will remain closed, she said, until it can be repaired and it is deemed structurally sound and a permit has been obtained from the county.

Mumby urged anyone - business or individual - with a flat roofed building to be sure its drainage system is working properly. With temperatures expected to rise, the snow will get heavier, "so the damage could get worse," she said.

As for the roof at Safeway, it appears as if the wind blew all the snow to one side the building, causing the collapse, Mumby said.

As the ceiling fell, all the employees got out, Gardiner said, but they weren't sure whether any customers were still inside. Fire company volunteers searched the building but didn't find anyone, Gardiner said.

The staff wasn't sure if anyone was inside, but fire crews looked at cameras in the store and didn't see anyone.

"The fire department checked a couple times, checked the cameras and found nothing," Gardiner said. "I was kind of surprised, yes, I think they were open."

The roof didn't fully collapse, he said, but it is significantly bowed from the front to the back over the produce section.

Fire department crews shut off all utilities – gas, electric – and checked the adjacent buildings to make sure they are structurally safe.

"Do not enter" signs have been put up on Safeway and other buildings to make sure no one goes inside. The fire department is trying to contact managers of the other businesses to make sure they're aware of the situation, Gardiner said.

"It has the potential to fall in. I can't speculate, but thinking about it, we're still getting more snow, so potentially," Gardiner said.

Gardiner said collapsing roofs is a concern across Harford and the rest of the state.

"They're designed to hold a certain amount of weight, but now you're adding the weight of the snow on them, anything is possible now," he said.

That said, Gardiner added, he begged people not to go up on their roofs to try and remove the snow.

"We don't want anyone to do that, it adds more weight, it could collapse itself and now we have a bigger problem," Gardiner said. "Please do not get on roofs. We're having a hard time getting around as it is."

The fire companies are handling the same number of calls they do on a normal day, he said.

"It's not slow by any means at all," Gardiner said.

National Guard Humvees and larger trucks have been stationed at various fire companies and are assisting on calls when needed. They help the EMS crews get closer to the homes they're responding to.

Most of Saturday's calls have been EMS calls, a few fire alarms, the same "routine calls we handle on a normal day are happening today."

There have been few, if any, motor vehicle accidents with injuries, Gardiner said.

"I haven't heard one, so that's a good things. It says hopefully people are paying attention and staying off the roads," Gardiner said.

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