At least 4 killed in crane collapse

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NEW YORK (AP) — A crane mounted to the side of a skyscraper under construction toppled with a roar yesterday, smashing into a block of apartment buildings, killing at least four persons and setting off a scramble for survivors in the rubble.

The crane split into pieces as it fell, pulverizing a four-story brownstone and demolishing parts of three other buildings.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at least four persons, thought to be construction workers, died and at least 10 persons were injured in one of the city’s worst construction accidents in recent memory.

“It is a tragic event,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

The collapse created a virtual war zone on an affluent block on Manhattan’s East Side: Cars were overturned and crushed. A huge dust cloud rose over the neighborhood. Rubble was piled several stories high.

An intensive rescue operation was under way to find anyone trapped. One man was pulled from a collapsed town house 3½ hours after the building was crushed.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said the rescue was “a painstaking hand operation, as we try to remove the rubble so we don’t cause further collapse or injure anyone who may still be in that building.” He said the operation would continue all night if necessary, including the use of search dogs and thermal-imaging and listening devices.

John PlaGreco, who owns a bar in the crushed building, said he feared one of his employees was dead inside.

“Our bar is done,” he said. “The crane crashed the whole building. If I wasn’t watching a Yankees game, I would’ve come to work early and gotten killed.”

About 19 of the planned 44-story condominium had been erected, and the crane was scheduled to be extended yesterday so workers could start on a fresh story, said an owner of the company that manages the construction site.

A piece of steel fell and sheared off one of the ties holding it to the building, causing it to detach and topple, said Stephen Kaplan, an owner of the Reliance Construction Group.

“It was an absolute freak accident,” Mr. Kaplan said. “All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened.”

Mr. Kaplan said the company had subcontracted the work and was not in charge of the crane.

Neighborhood residents said they had complained to the city several times about the construction at the site, saying crews worked illegal hours and the building was rising too fast.

City Building Department records showed that on March 4, a caller told officials that the upper portions of the crane appeared to lack the proper number of safety ties attaching it to the building. A city inspector visited the site and determined on March 6 that no violation was warranted.

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