BY YANNIC RACK |
A giant construction crane collapsed on Worth St. in Tribeca on Friday, killing one person and injuring three others.
The 565-foot crane, which was based at the corner of Hudson St., toppled over just before 8:30 a.m. and damaged four buildings before crashing down along two blocks of Worth St. As the crane fell, it gouged bricks out of the walls of neighboring buildings, raining debris down onto the sidewalk below.
One man, 38-year-old David Wichs from the Upper West Side, was killed by the impact and three more people were hurt by falling debris, according to city officials. One of them, 73-year-old Thomas O’Brien, was in serious condition after suffering a head laceration, according to police. The other two passers by sustained minor and moderate injuries.
For Downtowners along Worth St., the extremely loud and incredibly close catastrophe evoked traumatic memories.
“We fell down in our apartment, it was worse than 9/11, the sensation,” said Bruce Ehrmann, who lives on the block where the crane was stationed and was at home with his wife when it collapsed. “She was screaming, we both were. It was terrifying.”
Diane Lapson, who lives nearby, said her daughter thought it was some sort of natural disaster.
“My daughter came out of her room and said, ‘Mom I think we just had an earthquake. My whole room shook,’” said Lapson, though for her, the incident recalled a man-made cataclysm.
“Almost immediately we started hearing sirens,” she said. “And in this neighborhood, when you hear sirens after a big jolt, your antennas go up. It brings back a lot of memories of 9/11.”
The crane, which is owned by Bay Crane and operated by Galasso Trucking and Rigging, had been replacing generators and air conditioning units on the roof of the former Western Union Building at 60 Hudson St. since Jan. 30, and had been inspected the day before by the Dept. of Buildings, city officials said.
A crew had arrived there at 7 a.m. on Friday and was in the process of lowering the crane as a safety precaution due to strong winds, Mayor de Blasio said at a press conference in Tribeca after the accident.
“They were in the process of securing the crane, bringing it down to a safe and secure position, when this incident occurred,” the mayor said. “There was no construction work going on this morning.”
Several blocks around the site were cordoned off on Friday morning, as Fire Dept. crews searched the crane as well as the surrounding buildings. More than 140 firefighters and emergency medical personnel from more than 40 units were deployed to the site, according to the F.D.N.Y.
At the press conference, the mayor said the immediate concern were gas leaks caused by the impact of the crane, but added that F.D.N.Y. and Con Edison were sweeping the related buildings along Worth St. every 15 minutes.
“Con Ed has turned off gas in most of the buildings as a precaution, and they will be able to resolve the gas leak issue by early afternoon,” de Blasio said.
Officials with the Dept. of Buildings and Con Edison said a water main also broke and four buildings between W. Broadway and Church St. sustained damage, at least one of them part of New York Law School.
Workers were already erecting a sidewalk shed on the block and taking down damaged parapets in danger of collapsing, the mayor said.
No residential buildings had been evacuated before noon on Friday, but officials said the law school as well as some surrounding commercial buildings had been cleared.
“If you go out there in the street, as I did, and see what happened there — thank god it was not worse,” de Blasio said, adding that construction workers had kept pedestrians and cars away as they were trying to lower the crane. “You can see how powerful the damage was, but you can also see that it was something of a miracle that there wasn’t more impact. This is an area that would have normally had a lot of people around during rush hour.”
At the corner of Hudson and Worth Sts., where members of Community Board 1 and local elected officials had gathered amid snow flurries for their own press conference, the smell of gas was pungent.
Residents who live on the affected blocks were trying to get to their apartments, hoping they wouldn’t have to be evacuated.
Vivien Collens, an artist who lives at 11 Worth St. with her family, was visibly distraught as she tried to take in what had happened.
“The crane somersaulted. It was terrible,” she said. “I was so upset. It’s enormous, the crane is taller than the building.”
A maintenance worker from a nearby residential complex, Ricardo Caban, said he had been shoveling snow a few blocks over when he heard the crane collapse.
“It was like a ‘whoosh’ and then a ‘boom,’” he said. “It sounded like a plane, like when it’s foggy out and the planes fly low. That’s what I thought it was.” he said.
But for Ehrmann, the accident was less of a shock — though no less jarring.
“I’m stunned, but not surprised,” said Ehrmann, who said he had taken a picture of the crane swaying in the wind just the night before. “We’ve been predicting that this would happen since the crane went up. We asked [the operator] what are the odds of it collapsing when they started the work. And Galasso [Trucking and Rigging Inc.], which is in charge of the job, said, ‘you have a better chance of winning the Powerball lottery.’”
Local officials said there was no doubt that the lack of construction oversight in the city was a big part of the problem.
“We’ve been calling for more construction safety and coordination for a very long time now, and unfortunately we have a tragic wake-up call today,” said Community Board 1 chairwoman Catherine McVay Hughes. “It should not be the responsibility of residents to be the watchdogs of these major construction sites.”
Hughes noted that the board had passed a resolution in December, calling on the city to reverse its decision to phase out the Dept. of Transportation’s Lower Manhattan Commissioner’s Office, which is charged with coordinating the more than 90 major construction projects in the area.
“We have got to put a stop to this. There’s too many construction projects down here and we need better coordination from the city,” said City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who had showed up to survey the scene, along with State Assemblymember Deborah Glick and State Sen. Daniel Squadron.
“The community has been very clear that construction coordination in Lower Manhattan is a huge concern,” added Squadron, “and that this construction site is a particular concern. The fact that the community was able to identify this problem early, I think really adds to the tragedy and the shock.”
Three blocks away, the mayor said that he didn’t see the accident as part of a larger problem.
“I’m worried that we’ve had several construction incidents [lately] that I think were avoidable, and obviously that first and foremost involves the companies doing the work,” he said. “But we are adding a large number of inspectors, that was part of our last budget, and we are going to be very stringent on this point. We’ve had some construction site incidents that are very troubling — but this is a totally different matter.”
The mayor said there was “no recent negative activity” from the crane’s owner Bay Crane Services, or the operator, Galasso Trucking and Rigging — neither of which could be immediately reached for a comment on Friday.
City officials said both the police and the Dept. of Buildings would launch investigations into the incident.
Several blocks were cordoned off on Friday, and the mayor said residents should expect disruption over the weekend and possibly until after Monday.
The affected area stretches between Canal St. to the north and Chambers St. to the south, and from Hudson St. to Broadway.
“That box, we’re going to see a lot of disruption in the coming hours and the next few days, as issues are resolved and addressed,” the mayor said. “But we’ll make every effort to accommodate people.”
Officials said residents and workers will be largely cut off from the Worth St. section, but residents could access their homes with a police escort.
The city was also taking the precaution of temporarily shutting down all 376 crawler cranes across the city, the mayor said, as well as all of the 43 larger tower cranes currently in operation.