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Search continues for victim in collapsed NYC parking garage

Crews are using cranes to pluck cars one by one from a fallen New York City parking garage as the grim work continues to recover a worker who was presumed dead under tons of concrete and crumpled vehicles

Bobby Caina Calvan
Wednesday 19 April 2023 23:37 BST

Crews used cranes to pluck cars, one by one, from the rubble of a New York City parking garage Wednesday as building inspectors sought to pinpoint a cause for the century-old structure's deadly collapse.

Grim work also continued to recover the body of one garage worker presumed dead under tons of concrete and crumpled vehicles.

“Right now we’re transitioning to how we safely take down that building," Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol said at a news conference, a day after the multilevel parking lot collapsed just as a stream of customers were returning from work to retrieve their cars.

It was a delicate operation to remove as many as 90 vehicles scattered on the structure's buckled top deck and amid tons of shattered concrete.

A preliminary investigation found that all three floors of the garage partially or completely collapsed, according to the city's Buildings Department. The garage's rear wall partially collapsed, and the front facade bulged.

Officials said recovery efforts were made more difficult by the possibility that ongoing work could further destabilize the structure and make it more difficult to retrieve the victim.

Two decades ago, city building inspectors cited the property owner for failing to properly maintain the building, finding at the time that there were “cracks and defects” in the concrete. A more recent inspection, done in the fall of 2013, showed no further structural issues, according to an update the Building Department provided Wednesday afternoon.

Beginning last year, parking garages in parts of Manhattan were required to undergo structural inspections and file a report with the city by the end of 2023, with additional inspections at least once every six years. City officials said the garage's owners had yet to comply.

“There’s an investigation into exactly what happened here and making sure there’s something we could put in place to prevent something like this from happening,” Mayor Eric Adams said.

Theories abounded, and officials said they would consider all potential explanations — including the possibility that the structural integrity of older parking structures might be undermined by today’s fleets of bigger, heavier SUVs.

The mayor said that could be a matter worthy of investigation.

“We are living in a new environment and we have to constantly analyze and upgrade everything from weight capacity to how many cars can be there," Adams said.

The garage caved at around 4 p.m. Tuesday, a few blocks from City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Pace University had evacuated an adjacent dormitory and a classroom building and canceled all evening classes as it assessed the buildings' safety. City inspectors told the school it could resume use of the buildings, though the school said it would hold some classes online and have staff work remotely for the time being, said Jerry McKinstry, the university’s spokesperson.

In all, six nearby buildings were under evacuation orders pending inspections, according to city officials.

The Building Department said that in 2009, the garage's owners had been cited for failing to maintain the building because of cracks and defects in concrete. Officials ordered the building owner to hire a professional engineer and correct the violations. The owners began complying in January 2010 and filed applications to make structural repairs and install 34 auto lifts in the building.

In November 2011, a city inspection found that the interior maintenance of the building was “in good condition.” But city officials said they never received the required certificates of correction for previous violations, even though the building owner paid all associated penalties.

The mayor said the body of the man killed in the collapse was discovered by a doglike robot deployed by the Fire Department to search the ruins.

“We did not want to send people inside there. We couldn’t even send a cadaver dog in there because that cadaver dog would have gone in there and could have potentially had a collapse and harmed someone,” Adams said.

The mayor used the tragedy to defend his decision last week to allow his Police Department to use the robotic canines after blowback from critics.

“If we didn’t have that robotic dog we would have placed those firefighters in jeopardy. That’s how we found the person who’s still there,” he said.

Some regular patrons of the parking facility returned to the building to see if their cars had been retrieved and to pay their respects to the killed worker, who they said was always friendly.

“Every morning I'd see him," said Ahmed Scott, a regular customer at the parking garage. “When I was leaving that morning — the last time we saw each other — we smiled, waved at each other. We knew we’d see each other in the afternoon, same place, same time.”

Adam Cohen, who lives in a building near the parking structure, said his family has not been allowed to return to their home. A nearby hotel has also temporarily shuttered as a precaution.

Cohen showed a photo of the top deck of the parking garage and pointed to his Nissan Pathfinder, which had been swallowed by a huge fissure, its tail end pointing to the sky.

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Associated Press reporter Karen Matthews contributed to this report.

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