By Bruce Garner
The owners of the Cheeburger Cheeburger restaurant are lucky to be alive. Charlie Eich and his wife Rene are co-owners of the Chattanooga (TN) restaurant, and they were there when the whole front of their business collapsed onto the sidewalk and surrounding area Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Eich said he had been previously informed by city building inspectors and others that his building was not structurally sound. Tuesday night, as a precaution, Mr. Eich closed his restaurant to the public until he could resolve the problem. As a result, no one was inside the restaurant early this afternoon when the collapse occurred.
Chattanooga firefighters were called to the scene, along with Chattanooga police and medics with Hamilton County EMS. Seeing the magnitude of the collapse, the area around the building was sealed off, and Market Street was closed off from Aquarium Way to the south end of the Market Street Bridge. Part of Aquarium Way was also closed to keep the public away, just in case more of the building gave way. In addition to the building that housed Cheeburger Cheeburger, the building next door, which shared an interior wall, had the now closed Genghis Grill, and a small shop on the corner called Chattanooga Ghost Tours, Inc.
With part of the building down on the sidewalk and the rest of the structure unstable, the decision was made to bring in a demolition crew. Before starting that operation, Chattanooga firefighters carefully entered the structure and carried out some personal belonging for the owners, including computers, bulk quantities of frozen food, and pictures from the wall. A few minutes later, a private contractor that specializes in demolitions was brought in.
Fire Chief Chris Adams said a structural engineer was called in, along with representatives of the city’s building inspection office. Chief Adams said the demolition crew will use a track hoe to keep removing loose parts of the structure, until the experts on the scene are confident the remaining portion of the building is safe to leave up.
“This may be a long operation,” said Chief Adams. “They’re going to tear it down incrementally and evaluate periodically. If they can leave part of the building up, they’ll do that. If they’re not satisfied it’s safe, they may have to tear it all down. Safety is the number one priority.”
Bruce Garner is the Chattanooga (TN) Fire Department Public Information Director.