LANHAM, Md. – The roof of a Toys 'R' Us store collapsed Saturday, injuring at least nine people, as heavy rain soaked an area already stressed by the weight of snow from the Presidents Day blizzard, authorities said.
Fire Chief Ronald Blackwell said the injured people, including a 3-year-old, were hospitalized but none of their injuries was life-threatening.
Authorities had feared others were trapped inside the 45,000-square-foot building, but rescuers found no one in an initial search and Prince George's County Police reported no missing-person calls, officials said.
Blackwell said he was "cautiously optimistic" no bodies would be found as firefighters called off the search around 7 p.m.
Cranes will be brought in Sunday to continue the search under a 25-by-30 foot area of debris, though it's not believed any one who may have been trapped there would have survived, said Prince George's County Fire Department spokesman Mark Brady.
Fire officials said only about 60 to 70 percent of the roof actually came down. Inside, the store's floor was littered with mangled bicycles, toys, candy and standing water.
Fire officials also said the way the building collapsed appeared to have helped people get out. They believe the center part of the roof fell, causing a domino effect toward the front of the store. Fire officials estimate about 25 customers and 10 employees were inside.
Doretea Burton was with her mother and two children, a 1-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl, shopping for a high chair when she heard "a roaring sound."
"You could see the sky beams falling and beams bent," said Burton, 29. "For a moment we all thought we were going to die."
All 10 employees in the building at the time of the 11:45 a.m. collapse were unharmed.
Burton said she heard screams and saw one woman with a bloodied head. She said she and her family had to walk circles around the rubble to get out.
"The roof was coming down as we ran. It was like it was following us," she said.
Brady said the combination of the flat roof on the free-standing toy store and recent snow and rain created a "disaster waiting to happen."
The accident was the worst of several roof collapses in Maryland and Virginia, which also saw some flooding after heavy rain followed snow earlier in the week that reached more than 2 feet in some places.
The roof of an elementary school in Herndon, Va., collapsed Saturday, Fairfax County officials said. The school was empty at the time.
A Wal-Mart store in Leesburg, Va., about 20 miles west of the Toys 'R' Us, was evacuated as a precaution after the roof sagged, said Mary McGuire, spokeswoman for Loudon County fire and rescue.