Crane levels New York City townhouse, leaving 4 dead

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A construction crane fell from a New York City condominium on Saturday afternoon, demolishing a four-story townhouse and killing four construction workers.

At least ten people were injured in the accident, three of them critically, mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "This accident is one of the worst the city has had," said the mayor. "Our thoughts go to the families. I hope we will not find other victims." He added that authorities are investigating the cause of the accident.

The crane broke into pieces as it fell from a height of 15 or 20 stories, according to witnesses. It hit three residential buildings in the course of the fall and completely crushed the aforementioned townhouse, which housed a bar on the first floor. "The top of the crane went right through the building, and it sliced it in half," said Maryann Krajacic, who lives next to the townhouse.

The bar was closed when the crane fell, but John LaGreco, who owns the bar, fears one of his employees may be dead within the rubble. "Our bar is done," he said. "If I wasn't watching a Yankees game, I would've come to work early and gotten killed."

Cars were overturned and buried in rubble, and the air was filled with clouds of smoke and dust. Around 150 police officers blocked off the area, and 300 firefighters frantically searched for any additional victims. The search could continue all night, said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, and would include search dogs and thermal-imaging, and listening devices.

More than half a dozen buildings in the vicinity were evacuated, and a Red Cross shelter was set up nearby.

Stephen Kaplan, an owner of the Reliance Construction Group, says the accident resulted from a falling piece of steel, which severed one of the ties holding the crane to the building. "All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened," Kaplan said.

Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer said local residents had often complained about security violations in the building's construction; they asserted that crews worked illegal hours and that the building was going up too quickly. "Over the last year, this is becoming standard in my borough," Stringer said. "I think we have a real issue here."

On March 4, a caller told officials that the crane lacked a sufficient number of safety ties. It was inspected March 6, and no violation was issued. The crane was also inspected Friday, the day before the accident.