Workers trapped in Walmart cooler after vehicle crashes through parkade wall

Saanich firefighters rescued three workers trapped inside a cooler at the Uptown Walmart store after a driver smashed through a parkade wall at the shopping centre.

Saanich Deputy Fire Chief Dan Wood said the impact at about 4:30 p.m. caused severe structural damage to the building and that crews were working to stabilize parts of the ceiling in the parkade.

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He said building inspectors and engineers were en route to assess the damage.

The fire department said there were minor injuries to the vehicle driver, who was treated at the scene by paramedics. Fire crews were able to safely get the woman out of the vehicle amid twisted metal and building debris.

The workers inside the cooler were shaken but not harmed, Wood said.

“The driver drove through a steel-stud wall about 20 feet into the building, trapping three Walmart employees working in the deli section,” Wood said. “The car [came to a stop] wedged in tight to the cooler doors at a high speed.”

Wood said it could have been a “catastrophic” situation had the employees been working outside the cooler in the deli area.

A large hole, several feet high and wide, can be seen in the wall of the second level of the parkade. A large section of the parkade is behind police tape and several police officers were at the scene Friday evening.

The Walmart entrance is blocked by yellow caution tape and security guards.

Officials from Walmart and Uptown could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Walmart webcam showed a quiet scene in Uptown’s main plaza — a place that is normally active early Friday evening. The Walmart at Uptown is a “super centre,” with 26,000 square feet of grocery space alone.

Some people who were at Uptown at the time of the crash commented on how busy the centre was at the time of the crash.

Employee Deepak Sarkar said he was inside the store when he heard a loud bang and things hanging from the ceiling began to fall. “Then I knew that’s it and we have to go out,” he said.

A fire alarm sounded and an announcement followed describing the incident as Code 1, meaning people were injured, Sarkar said.

Employees helped to evacuate the building before leaving themselves.

Tianna Maciborski had just entered the store with friends when she heard a loud bang. They didn’t think much of it at first, and then people started to run out of the store, she said.

They filed out with a crowd of people and watched first responders bring stretchers into the building.

The fire department responded to the call as an “explosion,” saying the sound of the crashing vehicle was “deafening” to those who reported it.

He said about 18 people from the fire department were at the scene, with three engines, a ladder truck and emergency vehicle.

Saanich police Const. Markus Anastasiades said in a statement that officers are investigating the cause of the crash.

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said, “I’m so pleased to hear that no one has actually been hurt.”

“I feel for the family and the shock.”

Haynes said his thoughts are with the driver, the workers and the families of everybody involved.

It was a surprise and a shock that someone can drive through a wall in a mall that easily but this was a curtain wall, which is not necessarily that strong, he said.

A curtain wall, which is a thin concrete curtain, does not have the strength of a support wall with rebar in it, Haynes said.

“If it had hit a support structure, the car would have been stopped in its tracks and the accident would have perhaps been more harmful to her (the driver).”

A curtain wall is “not as strong as people might think it is,” Haynes said.

“Thank goodness that the fire department were able to get there and do their job and the police were on the scene.”

He anticipates that Saanich inspectors and engineers will put together an analysis and report on the structural implications because it is not a retaining wall.

“The question would be for Uptown, and a serious question is, ‘Has there been structural damage?’ ”

“I’m not sure that Saanich staff will go there because it is private property,” he said. “It’s really on the property owner to bring in the expertise to evaluate the impacts on the structure and its safety and the best way to remediate the damage to the curtain.”

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