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Building At Atlantic Yards Site Partially Collapses

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The partial collapse of a building connected to the Atlantic Yards project forced the evacuation of a nearby homeless shelter Thursday morning.

The vacant building at 800 Pacific Street in Prospect Heights is a former bakery, currently owned by Forest City Ratner, the developer of the Atlantic Yards project.

"Parapet walls exposed on both side over many years, and we had heavy rains, so it very well could be a residual effect of the heavy rains that we had,” said FDNY Assistant Chief James Nichols.

City officials say workers were removing asbestos on the roof of the building when approximately 200 feet of parapet wall fell onto the sidewalk. No one was hurt, but several parked cars were damaged.

An adjacent homeless shelter was evacuated as a precaution, leaving about 288 people, mostly women and children, homeless.

"No one is answering questions,” said one of the evacuated residents. “No one really knows anything, and we're sitting out here. My baby's cold and we want to go back inside."

The homeless services commissioner said the agency would work with the Red Cross to temporarily relocate the families.

"The hope is that some emergency repairs will take effect quickly, be completed quickly, and families will be able to return to the building,” Homeless Services Commissioner said Robert Hass.

Forest City Ratner says it will also work with the Red Cross to find shelter for the affected families.

The collapse of the building is the latest controversy surrounding the Forest City Ratner plan to redevelop this area. The firm owns the building where the bricks fell from, and opponents are pointing fingers at the developer.

"I don't know if anything sinister happened, but obviously some big mistake occurred that nobody took precautions for, and that's the responsibility of the developer and the Empire State Development Corporation," said Daniel Goldstein of the group Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.

The FDNY says there are no signs of foul play, and the building's age and or wet weather could have caused the collapse.

The Buildings Department issued a violation for failure to maintain the building's exterior wall.

Councilwoman Letitia James is one of several local elected officials calling for a probe into the incident.

"I'm asking for an investigation with respect to this collapse, and I'm asking ESDC to halt — halt — all work until such time this investigation is completed," James said.

In response to the incident, Forest City Ratner vice president Bruce Bender said:

“At the time of the purchase, (in March 2006) the building was already in a state of disrepair. We will of course work very closely with the Buildings Department and other agencies to determine the cause of the collapse and to ensure public safety."

At the request of the buildings department, Forest City Ratner says it will put up sidewalk scaffolding, which was not in place when the collapse occurred.
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