Four people are dead, more than a dozen injured, and at least one person remains trapped in the rubble of a crane collapse in Midtown Saturday in what the mayor called "one of the worst [construction accidents] the city has had."
Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said the rescue effort would extend through the night in a "painstaking, hand operation" to remove the rubble without causing further collapse or injury to anyone who could be trapped underneath.
Four construction workers were killed when the 19-story crane apparatus collapsed from a construction site at East 51st Street at about 2:22 p.m. Saturday, crashing through several buildings and completely crushing a four-story brick townhouse a block away at 305 East 50th Street between First and Second Avenues.
Juan Perez, a cleaner at restaurant/bar Fubar on the ground floor of the crushed building, was removed from the rubble hours after the accident and taken to Bellevue Hospital where he is stable.
Fubar owner John LaGreco told authorities that he feared a female employee was at work at the time of the accident and could be buried amid the rubble. LaGreco was late for work and was not in the building at the time.
At least 10 people were injured in the collapse, three critically.
Searchers were using dogs, thermal imaging, and listening equipment as the search for survivors stretched into the night in a daunting and massive coordinated rescue effort.
About 300 firefighters and 150 police officers were on the scene, in addition to representatives and workers from the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Buildings, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection, Emergency Medical Services, Con Edison, and the Red Cross, among others.
Incoming Governor David Paterson, who was in town for an event Saturday evening and arrived at the site at 6:40 p.m., said that of all places where such a tragedy could occur, New York City is the "best prepared place for it to happen."
"Though we lost four lives, there were herculean efforts to save three others who remain in critical condition," Paterson said, adding that he had offered the state's resources to the mayor.
Stephen Kaplan, the owner of Reliance Construction Group, which is responsible for construction at the site, said that a freak accident caused a piece of steel to sheer off one of the ties that secured the crane's 15-story boom apparatus to the building.
One part of the boom, measuring about 75 feet in length, snapped off and struck three townhouses on East 50th Street, stretching across half a city block. Another part of the boom came to rest against an apartment tower, buckling its facade and smashing its upper floors.
The Department of Buildings has confirmed that at least six buildings have sustained damage from the crash.
Neighbors said the 15-story white crane, owned by New York Crane and made by the Australian company FAVCO, appeared unstable before the accident. But the unit passed an inspection conducted by the city on Friday, and the proper permits were in place for the raising of the crane that was taking place when the crash occurred.
The crane was being used at the construction site for a high-rise condominium, 19 floors of which have been constructed so far. Engineers say that building remains secure. However, DOB inspectors have been on hand at the scene to monitor the building.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there have been 13 violations against the building under construction at 303 East 51st Street, but added that is not an unusual number of violations for a building project of this size. Workers were "jumping the crane" Saturday in order to add another floor to what will be a 43-story condominium.
The small, brick three-story building at 305 East 50th Street, which housed Fubar, was leveled in the wreckage. Outside, at least one car was turned on its side, and other nearby cars had their windows blown out.
Authorities quickly blocked off the surrounding area amid concerns of a further collapse. Sixteen surrounding buildings were either partially or fully evacuated:
• 301 East 50th Street/944 Second Avenue
• 306 East 50th Street
• 308 East 50th Street
• 310 East 50th Street
• 311 East 50th Street
• 300 East 51st Street
• 306 East 51st Street
• 308 East 51st Street
• 310 East 51st Street
• 312 East 51st Street
• 314 East 51st Street
• 318 East 51st Street
• 320 East 51st Street
• 322 East 51st Street
• 324 East 51st Street
• 954 Second Avenue
Shelter is being provided for evacuees at the School for Art and Design at 228 East 57th Street, where the Red Cross is coordinating the necessary assistance.
Many area residents who were home at the time of the crane collapse described a terrifying scene, interrupting the mild, spring-like day.
Roberto Salazar, who was dining in a restaurant across the street from the collapse, saw debris rain down onto the building's patio, and then ran out onto the street to witness a "huge plume of dust and debris" completely block visibility.
Greta Welkhammer, who lives several blocks north of the collapse site, said the building collapsed "like a house of cards."
George Conway, who witnessed the collapse, described seeing a "cloud of yellow dust" immediately after the crane toppled over.
Others described hearing loud booming noises, like those heard in a demolition, and smelling a strong odor of gas.
"We lost at least four people - innocent victims, innocent construction workers - on this most beautiful day on the East Side," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "People are going to be going to funerals - if that does not rev up people's anger to say enough is enough - we've got to work this out."
Saturday’s crane collapse follows several months of serious and deadly accidents at construction sites around the city.
On January 14, a construction worker pouring concrete fell 42 stories to his death at the construction site of the new Trump Hotel in SoHo when a plank he was standing on gave way. Two other workers were seriously injured in the accident.
Before that, on December 14, an architect was paralyzed when a crane at the Goldman Sachs building site in Lower Manhattan dropped 14,000 pounds of steel onto his trailer below.
And on August 18, two firefighters were killed in a fire that broke out during the demolition of the Deutsche Bank building at the World Trade Center site.
Following that string of accidents, Stringer announced the creation of the Borough Watch Construction Working Group to oversee site safety at city construction sites, saying the number of safety violations at high-rise locations more than doubled last year.
As of 11:30 p.m., city officials were advising motorists of a number of street closures in the area, including East 51st Street between Second and Third Avenue, crosstown traffic between 53rd and 57th Street, Second Avenue between 49th and 53rd Streets, and Third Avenue between 50th and 52nd Streets.
Con Edison has also cut off gas at several buildings at East 50th and East 51st Streets, including the crushed apartment building.