It's deja vu all over again: A beach town celebration ended in disaster last week when a deck collapse at a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inn dumped some 30 guests from a height of 12 feet, sending 13 to the hospital and injuring at least one badly enough to require hospitalization and surgery for a leg fracture.
News Channel 15 in Myrtle Beach (www.CarolinaLive.com) has a report (see: "Deck Collapses in Pawleys Island," by Continuous News Desk). Rich Regan, an eyewitness, told the station: ""On the deck, there was somewhere about 30 people, and I was standing there and all of a sudden the deck started to collapse. I jumped quicker than some people. I was not injured. My son was with me, and he's not injured, but it is pretty horrific. It's ten feet down, and wood and splinters and nails and a lot of blood and people screaming."
Details of the mechanism of failure aren't available yet. But as is common in deck failures, local authorities spoke of "overloading." Pawley's Island Police Chief Michael Fanning had this comment: "These type of situations when you have an overload of people on a deck, these decks tend to collapse kind of in a trap door fashion, and everybody comes sliding down on top of each other. So my officers told me when they arrived on scene, there was actually a couple of different layers of people they had to kind of evacuate out of there in order to evaluate the seriousness of their injuries."
Owners of the Sea View Inn, where the accident occurred, went on Facebook to offer an apology—along with a justification. From the post: "Sea View Inn had a very unfortunate accident this evening. At approximately 6:15pm, the guests were gathering in the dining room for supper. It was at that time some of them noticed a double rainbow and suggested that the entire group go out and take a photograph on the small, elevated deck just below the main ocean porch. The best indication that we have is that there were over 30 people on the deck for this photo. This deck was not in disrepair or in a compromised state. It was waterlogged from the recent deluge of rain and simply could not hold the weight."
For a better understanding of what conditions can lead to a wood deck collapse, consult "Attaching Deck Ledgers" by Cheryl Anderson, Frank Woeste, and Joe Loferski (JLC 8/03). In answer to the question, "Why don't more decks fail?" the authors provide some authoritative information about how many people a deck should be able to support: "Code design loads require residential decks to be able to support a 40-psf live load plus a 10-psf dead load. Assuming a 12x18-foot deck, 40 psf would be roughly equivalent to a gathering of 58 people, based on an average weight of 150 pounds per person. In reality, however, that many people are unlikely to gather at one time on a 12x18-foot deck during its entire service life."
For more information on structurally sound deck attachments, see "Coastal Resources: Safe and Durable Decks," by Frank Woeste, Coastal Contractor 3/08. In that article, Woeste recommends the 2006 edition of the American Wood Council's "Prescriptive Residential Deck Construction Guide." That reference has now been updated (and is under revision again); for the 2009 edition, see "Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide — Based on the 2009 International Residential Code." For construction details and other information about building safe decks, see "Best Practices: Decks" (JLC, 9/13).