Authorities respond to roof collapse at Duluth's Miller Hill Mall

Snow comes into storefront
Scott Skar, manager at the Barnes & Noble store at Duluth's Miller Hill Mall, took this photo of the interior of the mall after part of the roof collapsed on Tuesday morning. The area has seen more than 40 inches above normal snow for this point in the season.
Courtesy of Scott Skar

Updated: 12:15 p.m.

Part of the roof at Duluth’s Miller Hill Mall collapsed Tuesday morning, sending a pile of snow and debris into a portion of the building.

There were no reports of injuries in the collapse that was reported at about 9 a.m.

“All of the people in the building at the time of collapse have since been accounted for,” Duluth city spokesperson Kelli Latuska told MPR News. “Gas and water have been shut off to the building. The gas lines run along the roof, and so there was a small gas leak along the roof, but it has been contained.

“We are asking people to stay away from the area, and the whole building is evacuated and closed until further notice."

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Authorities did not immediately offer further information on what caused the collapse. But it happened amid a winter of above-average snowfall in Duluth, with another foot falling last weekend.

The season snow total at the Duluth airport now stands at more than 116 inches — more than 40 inches above normal for this point in the season.

The mall does not open to customers until 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, though some stores that are part of the mall open earlier in the day — including the Barnes & Noble bookstore, which was set to open at 9 a.m.

Barnes & Noble store manager Scott Skar told MPR News that he was in the break room when he “heard what sounded like something rolling across the roof. And they'd been working on (the) snow, but this sound was quite louder than anything else previously. And I think I felt the shudder.”

Then an employee who had gone to open the gate at the store’s mall entrance called out Skar’s name.

“I ran out there and she said, ‘the middle of the mall roof just collapsed.’ And so I went to the mall gate and sure enough, it was very shocking to see — you could see open to the sky. The snow was as tall as the mall roof when it caved in.”

Skar called 911, and yelled out to see if there might be anyone injured or in need of help. The store staff then smelled gas, and they left the building.

Skar said crews had been working to remove snow from the roof, and he believed more of that work was planned for Tuesday. He said a portion of the mall where the collapse occurred had been roped off, to keep people out as crews worked above. Skar commended the mall staff and first responders for their response to the collapse.

Essentia Health has several facilities within the mall. It said they were not directly affected by the roof collapse, but would be closed Tuesday and Wendesday along with the rest of the mall.

“Decisions about the timing of reopening will be made in conjunction with mall leadership,” Essentia reported. It said all affected patients would be contacted to reschedule appointments.

The Miller Hill Mall is the largest shopping center in Duluth. It opened in 1973 and has undergone extensive remodeling and renovation over the years.