Scaffolding collapse in New York leaves five construction workers dead, 11 injured

Thursday, October 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ A building facade and scaffolding collapsed, killing five construction workers, and rescue crews were rushed from the World Trade Center site two miles away to help free survivors.

Eleven workers were injured in the collapse at the 20-story Manhattan office building Wednesday, city officials said. In addition, eight firefighters and three police officers suffered minor injuries while digging out victims.

Rescue workers armed with flashlights worked late into the night to clear debris from the 20-foot pile of rubble. The loose bricks, broken wooden planks and bent metal poles were pulled from the pile and spread along neighboring streets.

Crews had to be called to the scene, on Park Avenue South near Gramercy Park, from the trade center site, said Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, who spoke at the scene with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

``Just being on the line, passing debris from one person to another, it makes you think of the World Trade Center, except here you're looking for people who are alive,'' firefighter Joe Ortiz told the Daily News.

As some 250 rescue workers hunted for victims, they stopped periodically to listen for tapping signals from survivors.

They eventually got them out.

``All of the victims have been removed, and all of the debris that was trapping the victims has also been removed,'' fire department spokesman Robert Calise said early Thursday.

The cause of the collapse was still being investigated.

The construction crew on the 12-to-15-story scaffolding was replacing bricks and fixing windows at about 4 p.m. when the collapse happened. The facade on the building peeled away, but it was not immediately clear which collapsed first, the facade or the scaffolding, police said.

``We were working just as usual and suddenly the foreman started to say 'You have to hurry up to get rid of all the demolition material,''' worker Gary Hernandez said. ``But there was a lot of demolition material on every floor and the weight suddenly gave in.''

The injured workers were taken to hospitals, police said. Their conditions were not immediately known.

One of the injured workers walked out of the building on his own before he was taken for treatment. A teary Mary DeJesus was at the scene when her injured husband, Juan DeJesus, was led out of the building. She hugged him before he left.

``He didn't know what happened,'' she said. ``Everything happened so fast. I'm just glad that he's safe.''

Howard Rubenstein, a spokesman for S.L. Green Leasing LLC, the leasing and managing agent of the building, said the scaffolding was erected by Nesa Waterproofing to repair and restore the building's facade. A message left on an answering machine at Nesa Waterproofing was not immediately returned.