A crew was in the process of demolishing the former Arlington Village Hall when the south wall of the building collapsed onto the Arlington Post Office just after noon Friday.
Two people were inside the post office at the time of the collapse. Both escaped.
Postal clerk Marg Mathiesen of Herman was working at her desk along the building's north wall when she heard the rumble of the demolition.
“The next thing I know, I'm getting shoved backward across the room,” she said.
Mathiesen estimated she was moved 4 feet by the collapsing wall, which left a gaping hole in the post office.
“There was just a lot of dust and our wall coming in,” she said. “Stuff is everywhere.”
Mathiesen had a large bump on her right leg. Postmaster Leigh Mueller said Mathiesen drove herself to the hospital to be treated.
Arlington resident Micheal Dwyer walked into the post office to get his mail moments before the collapse.
“I had the one box open and had just taken the mail out to look,” he said. “I felt a rush of wind. It was almost like the rush of wind and then you heard the kaboom. Even then, there was a second where I was like, 'What was that?'”
Dwyer, a member of Arlington Fire and Rescue, realized what happened as debris started to fall from the ceiling. He rushed out of the building before going back in to check on Mathiesen.
“Thank God she was alive,” he said.
Grefe Excavating of Arlington was demolishing Village Hall. Village Clerk Linda Douglas and Deputy Clerk Rachelle Brainard were watching the process.
Douglas watched in disbelief as the wall fell.
“It was going so quickly you (couldn't) react to it,” she said.
Douglas immediately ran for the post office to see if she could help those inside. She called 911 and then called Village Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Krause and other members of the board. Douglas also called the Omaha Public Power District and Black Hills Energy.
Douglas said everything was just a blur.
“It was all just so quick,” she said.
Mark Grefe was operating a backhoe, carefully knocking down sections of the north wall. He said there were no indications that the south wall would fall.
“I was on the opposite side pulling on the direction away from the post office,” he said. "That wall was freestanding obviously, which was unforeseen. At the time, you can't tell — until the rafters started jiggling, it must have been enough and it fell the other way somehow.”
Grefe said in his 26 years of demolition experience he has never seen a wall fall the opposite direction.
“I can usually guesstimate demolition pretty good — what it's going to do,” he said. “I had no sight of it going the other way. I was working on (the north) side.”
Mike Grefe, who owns the company, plans to file a claim with his insurance company.
“Hopefully, it will cover (the damage),” he said.
Arlington firefighters were dispatched to the scene, but cancelled after it was determined there were no serious injuries.
Sheriff Mike Robinson and deputies arrived a short time later and began cordoning off the area.
The post office, which Robinson estimates was built in the 1960s, was to be examined by the Washington County building inspector.
Robinson said he expected the building could possibly be condemned.
Arlington Postmaster Leigh Mueller said the post office will temporarily relocate to the Fremont Post Office.
“We had some wonderful offers here,” Mueller said, but =those locations do not have the security needed to serve as a post office.
When the building is deemed safe, postal employees will remove the mail, stamps and securities inside. The U.S. Postal Service leases the building. It is owned by Eugene O'Donnell of Omaha, Mueller said.
Mueller said she learned of the collapse when Mathiesen called her.
“I thought she was teasing,” Mueller said.
Mueller didn't want to believe her.
“I just started praying,” she said.
Krause had yet to see the damage in person.
“No one involved wanted to see this happen,” he said.
Krause said the village was waiting on a structural engineer from Omaha to inspect the post office. He said they were hoping to get some direction as to how to move forward with that building.
“It looks like it's in pretty bad shape,” he said. “We'll wait and see what the experts tell us.”
Insurance companies for both the village and Grefe Excavating had been contacted. Krause said the village was given the OK to move forward with demolition of the village building.
“I just feel terrible that it had to come to this,” he said.
The remainder of the building was demolished just before 4 p.m. Friday.
The former Village Hall was abandoned in September 2014 after an engineer deemed it unsafe.
The building was being torn down to make way for a new municipal building. The former French's Oil, which stood next to Village Hall, was demolished Wednesday without incident.
The village clerk's office is temporarily housed in the community room at the Arlington Auditorium.