Four Construction Workers Die in N.Y. Crane Collapse

A section of the collapsed crane protrudes from a crushed building on 50th Street near Second Avenue in Manhattan.
A section of the collapsed crane protrudes from a crushed building on 50th Street near Second Avenue in Manhattan. (By Jason Decrow -- Associated Press)
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By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 16, 2008

NEW YORK, March 15 -- Four construction workers were killed Saturday afternoon when a towering crane toppled onto a Manhattan apartment building, in what Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) called one of the city's worst construction accidents ever.

Fourteen other people were injured. Rescuers used listening devices, heat-detection gear and specially trained dogs to search for anyone else possibly trapped in the rubble, Bloomberg said.

The crane, reaching 19 stories tall, collapsed during construction of a 43-story building on 51st Street, splitting into pieces shortly after 2 p.m., officials said. The top section of the crane crushed a four-story townhouse when it fell, said Jim Long, a New York City Fire Department spokesman.

The accident occurred in Midtown Manhattan, and more than half a dozen buildings near the site were evacuated. The American Red Cross set up a shelter nearby.

About 300 firefighters and 150 police officers worked Saturday evening at the site of the collapse to figure out how best to remove the crane and debris.

"They are working in a dangerous situation, and we want to make sure that nothing else happens," Bloomberg said at a news conference near the crushed building.

Construction workers at the scene held each other and wept.

The collapse occurred during a procedure known as "jumping the crane" -- allowing the crane to raise itself, city officials said.

"I saw the crane crashing, splitting in half," witness Greta Welkhammer told one local television station. She said she had been riding her bicycle nearby when the crane hit the building, and that she saw the townhouse "falling like a house of cards."

"Everybody was running, running; it was devastating," she said.

The city had cited the construction of the 43-story condominium building for 13 violations -- five of them still open -- Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said. The violations include one, from February 2007, for failing to have a site-wide safety inspector.

"Over the last year, this is becoming standard in my borough," Stringer said. "I think we have a real issue here."

Neighbors had also called in complaints, including on March 4, when a caller warned that the crane did not appear to be braced properly. A subsequent inspection suggested that the builder was complying with construction guidelines, aides from Stringer's office said.

Officials said they were at the site for an inspection on Friday and wrote no violations.

"Sadly, construction is a dangerous thing," Bloomberg said. "We don't know why this happened. We will do an investigation. We will find out."

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