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Fires at former hospital frustrate residents and firefighters

Friday’s fire is the second at the old St. Elizabeth Hospital in Hannibal in three weeks and the latest after years of issues. Both residents and firefighters say they’re frustrated nothing’s been done with the building that’s been vacant for years.

As firefighters prepared to drag hoses into the building around 5:30 p.m. Friday, residents watched. Some recorded it on their cell phones, others watched in their cars, all troubled this has happened yet again.

“It’s not the first time it’s happened,” Ryan Lionberger said. “Kids are sneaking in there. Kids are going to be kids, I get that, but it’s a big building and it’s dangerous.”

Hannibal’s fire chief says four kids were reportedly in the building, but crews never found anyone when they arrived. It’s another fire at a spot crews know all too well over the last five years.

“It’s frustrating, not only for us, but the neighbors in this area,” Chief Sean Hampton said. “This building’s been an issue for quite some time.”

With one fire after another, it continues to put the firefighters’ safety at risk as the inside of the building is crumbling.

“Our biggest concern is someone’s going to get in here and get something and not make their way out,” Hampton said.

The city manager say a number of buyers wanted tax credits to turn the hospital into senior housing apartments, but with less funding it hasn’t been successful.

“It really just needs to be demolished,” Lionberger exclaimed.

The city manager says tearing it down would cost Hannibal $600,000 to $700,000, knocking out half the city’s reserve in one shot. Residents say something still needs to be done.

“You have to weigh your options out and realize it’s not worth keeping around,” Lionberger said.

Their worse fear is a small fire turning massive.

“It could get really bad,” Lionberger added. “It’s going to be hard to stop it. You’re going to have to have everybody out here.”

City Manager Jeff LaGarce says the courts have ordered the building’s owner to seal the building or face consequences. A court appearance is scheduled for next week.

Jim Roberts

Social Media & Digital Content Manager

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