CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) — The excitement of getting pro-wrestling star Hulk Hogan’s autograph turned to fear for many who were on a balcony and felt the building shift during an autograph session Saturday at Hogan’s Beach Shop.
As the famous wrestler signed autographs at his business located in the Pelican Walk Plaza, people clamoring for a view experienced the moment of terror.
“At first it was kind of nerve racking because everybody was upstairs and you just saw everyone start to run,” said bartender Devin Demeo, who was working at the Brown Boxer on the first floor.
People on the second floor balcony heard the sound. “They said they heard a snap and they felt a shift of the building. And so they evacuated for safety reasons,” said Joelle Castelli with the City of Clearwater.
A structural engineer said two ground floor columns failed due to significant corrosion and a high number of people on the balcony. While not the primary cause of the failure, the engineer noted, many people were jumping. Read the engineer’s report.
“At first they just said they felt the floor shift and that’s all that we heard. And then, once the fire marshal started coming out, then that’s when we got word that we had to evacuate,” said Demeo.
Sitting right above the damaged columns is a business called Beach Time Rentals. “I’m afraid that the whole building might collapse. And it is frightening, especially when you work on the top floor,” said employee, Mona Degener.
Employees said they were never notified about the balcony shift. Repair work is underway and people are being allowed back on the second floor.
“It’s safe to go inside. We’re not allowing a large number of people on the second floor. We don’t want people right over the columns where they’re under construction right now,” said Castelli.
Other columns will likely be inspected for damage.
“You just don’t want to work in an environment that’s gonna fall apart on you” said Bar tender, Devin Demeo.
Construction crews spent Monday installing large wooden beams to shore up the Pelican Walk Plaza, careful to dodge the big Hulk Hogan statue near his ground floor beach shop.
Hulk Hogan is in town for a civil trial involving himself and the website Gawker. Hogan is suing Gawker for $100 million for publishing a sex tape of him and the wife of a Tampa radio personality. Hogan, who is also claiming an intentional infliction of emotional distress, says the tape was made without his knowledge.