- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008

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

The crane split into pieces as it fell, pulverizing one small, brick apartment building and demolishing parts of several other buildings on Manhattan’s East Side.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at least four people have died and at least 10 people were injured in one of the city’s worst construction accidents in recent memory. An intensive, but delicate rescue operation was under way to find anyone still trapped in the several-stories-high piles of rubble.

John PlaGreco, who owns Fu 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 Saturday so workers could start work 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,” Kaplan said. “All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened.”

Kaplan said the company had subcontracted the work to different companies and was not in charge of the crane. He wasn’t sure whether any workers at the site were among those killed.

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 going up 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.

Another call questioning the crane’s safety was dismissed as unwarranted by another inspector in February.

On Saturday, nearby residents reported hearing a terrible roar as the structure detached from the condominium.

“First I heard a rumble, and it increased, and then it increased,” said Bill Reilly, who lives a block away. “It continued building in strength until there was a final vroom! It shook the six-story brick building that I live in.”

Witnesses reported a strong smell of gas in the area on 51st Street near 2nd Avenue. Gas utility Consolidated Edison said it shut off service to area buildings.

Ben Galati, 54, said he was in the basement of a high-rise apartment building across the street where he is a doorman.

“I heard a rumble outside. I said ‘Let’s get out of here!’ And then the crane came down. A split second later, I heard an explosion,” he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide