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Sunday, March 16, 2008 - Page updated at 02:21 PM

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Crane disaster in N.Y. "a horrible situation"

The Associated Press

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JASON DECROW / AP

Rescue workers search through rubble where a section of collapsed crane lies on top of a crushed building in Manhattan. The crane fell from the side of a skyscraper under construction, hitting several buildings and breaking apart on the way down.

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JASON DECROW / AP

Fire Department officials said at least four people were dead, and several others were taken to two area hospitals.

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JASON DECROW / AP

The crane split into pieces as it fell, pulverizing one small, brick apartment building and demolishing parts of several other buildings on Manhattan's East Side.

NEW YORK — A crane rising 19 stories alongside a skyscraper under construction toppled like a tree across a city block Saturday, crashing into apartment buildings, killing four people and setting off a scramble for survivors.

The crane split into pieces as it fell, pulverizing a four-story town house and demolishing parts of three other buildings. One man was pulled from the town house 3 ½ hours after the building was crushed.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at least four people, believed to be construction workers, died and at least 10 people were injured in one of the city's worst construction accidents in recent memory.

The collapse devastated the affluent block on Manhattan's East Side: Cars were overturned and crushed; a huge dust cloud rose over the neighborhood; rubble was piled several stories high.

"It's a horrible situation, very gory. There's blood in the street," said Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who takes over as governor for disgraced Eliot Spitzer on Monday.

An intensive rescue operation was under way to find anyone possibly trapped in the rubble on 51st Street near Second Avenue.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said the rescue was "a painstaking hand operation, as we try to remove the rubble so we don't cause further collapse or injure anyone who may still be in that building." He said the operation would continue all night if necessary.

John LaGreco, who owned a tavern called Fubar that was closed when the brownstone was crushed, said his employee, Juan Perez, was the man pulled from the rubble. He said Perez suffered a broken leg. All of his employees were accounted for.

"Our bar is done," he said. "The crane crashed the whole building. If I wasn't watching a Yankees game, I would've come to work early and gotten killed."

About 19 of the planned 43-story condominium had been erected, and the crane was scheduled to be extended Saturday so workers could start work on a fresh story, said an owner of the company that manages the construction site.

A piece of steel fell and sheared off one of the ties holding it to the building, causing it to detach and topple, said Stephen Kaplan, an owner of the Reliance Construction Group.

"It was an absolute freak accident," Kaplan said. "All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened."

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Kaplan said the company had subcontracted the work to different companies and was not in charge of the crane.

Neighborhood residents said they had complained to the city several times about the construction at the site, saying crews worked illegal hours and the building was going up too fast.

City officials said they had issued 13 violations to the site in the last 27 months, a normal amount for a project of that size. Inspectors examined the crane Friday and found nothing wrong with it.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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