Photo from the Ruff Disaster
Description: This photo depicts the aftermath of what is called Sioux City’s worst tragedy. This pile of rubble was once the Hedges Block, a building at the corner of 4th and Douglas that was home to several business, including a grocery store, meat market, dress shop, and the largest: Oscar Ruff Drug Company. On June 29, 1918 the Hedges Block was being remodeled so the first floor, which previously was several steps above street level, would become level with the sidewalk. The shops inside were allowed to remain open for the renovations so they would not lose the business. At 1:30 p.m. the entire Hedges Block collapsed, trapping many shoppers inside. The building almost immediately caught fire, and it took the fire department over 36 hours to fully extinguish it. Rescue teams attempted to dig through the rubble to recover the survivors. Oscar Ruff was rescued with no injuries after being trapped for seven hours.
In all, over 39 people died in what became known as the Ruff Disaster, the most of any tragedy in Sioux City. A further 70 were injured, and property damage was estimated at over $150,000. Upon investigation, the cause of the collapse was a set of shortened and removed walls. The walls were not supposed to be touched according to the renovation plan, only the floors. The coroner’s jury determined the blame to be two-fold: on the owners of the Hedges Block, the Western Iowa Company, who called for the renovations of an old and deteriorated building, and on the city building inspector E. J. O’Connor, for allowing the renovations to take place. No criminal action was ever taken against either party, although some of the business owners, including Oscar Ruff, sued and were provided settlements. Because of the disaster new improvements were made in the city inspection office, so that in the future buildings would be built and repaired more safely.
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