A suspended steel-and-concrete ceiling about to be reinforced crashed "like a bomb" at a commuter train station just after rush hour yesterday, killing two men and injuring eight other people, officials said.

Morning crowds had just thinned when the 50-ton ceiling, with three workmen on it, fell 25 feet onto the main concourse of the Journal Square station.

"I started running. I tripped, and I saw all these legs running past me," said Mark Merriman, a commuter line clerk. "People were panicking. I heard something like a loud explosion....

"One man just looked up, and the ceiling fell right on him," said William Guadalupe, a Hudson County corrections officer.

Three workers were on the 200-foot-long slab, making preliminary checks before starting the installation of added supports, when it fell, officials said. Two of them plunged to the concourse, while the third man clung to a pipe and let himself down.

Francis Gorman, general manager of the Port Authority-Trans Hudson (PATH) line, said an inspection in April showed "a sag" in the ceiling but "no danger of imminent failure."

Authorities are investigating to see if the men standing on the ceiling contributed to the collapse, Gorman said.

The dead were identified as Joseph Hadewycz, 36, of Jersey City, a motorman for the PATH line; and Galar Said El Taha, 26, whose residence was not known.