LOWER MANHATTAN, Manhattan (WABC) -- The victim of the deadly Lower Manhattan garage collapse was formally identified Thursday as building inspectors sought to pinpoint a cause for the century-old structure's deadly collapse.
It was a delicate operation to recover the victim and remove as many as 90 vehicles scattered on the structure's buckled top deck and amid tons of shattered concrete. Crews used cranes to pluck cars from the ruins one by one but made only modest progress.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has opened an investigation into the collapse, a spokesperson said. 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.
While the cause is unknown and it is very early in the investigation, city officials are preliminarily looking at the weight of the vehicles on the roof and the age of the building.
According to NYC Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol, there were over 50 cars parked on the roof. That is more than half of the total 90 cars believed to have been parked in the garage at the time of the collapse.
The sheer weight of the cars - as much as a quarter of a million pounds - might have been enough to trigger the collapse.
The controlled demolition of the garage could take up to 25 days, according to the contract signed by the private contractor -- although it could also be done sooner.
The deconstruction of the building is being coordinated with the building department's investigation. So if investigators need an area of debris cleared to facilitate their investigation, the construction crews will prioritize that area.
"Buildings will say, let's clear an area so we can take a look safely and the demolition will focus on that area," a city official explained.
The general plan is to remove the approximately 90 cars, and then demolish the area after the cars are removed.
The cars are filled with gas, and there are potentially electrical vehicles also trapped in the debris - which is an ongoing safety concern.
The cars will be taken to Pier 36 after removal. It is assumed that the removal process will result in all the cars being totaled, but owners will be able to claim them if they choose.
MORE | Dash cam video provides first look inside Lower Manhattan parking garage as it collapsed
The investigation continues
Two decades ago, city 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 in fall 2013 showed no further structural issues, according to an update the Building Department provided Wednesday.
"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.
Beginning last year, parking garages in parts of Manhattan were required to undergo structural inspections and file reports 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.
"I'm sure the investigators are going to be looking the loading of the structure, what the structure was actually designed for, what modifications were made throughout the years, and if the structure as it stood now was able to withstand the loading of the car," said Kathleen Needham Inocco with Midtown Preservation.
The building's Certificate of Occupancy from 1957 notes that far fewer cars should be allowed on the roof of the building than on the lower floors.
"Parking garages are very corrosive environments, they bring water and salt inside the structure, corrodes the steel reinforcement," Inocco said.
ALSO READ | Manhattan parking garage previously cited for exposed cracks before collapse
Remembering the victim
The 98-year-old building collapsed in a loud roar that sent neighbors and shopkeepers into a panic. Firefighters were on the scene within minutes. Several parking attendants were injured and one was killed. Neighbors identified the victim as the 59-year-old parking garage manager Willis Moore.
New York City officials formally identified Willis as the victim later Thursday.
Some regular customers returned to see if their cars had been retrieved and to pay their respects to the missing worker, who they said was always friendly.
"Every morning I'd see him," said Ahmed Scott, one of the regulars. "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."
First responders were initially concerned they would not be able to recover the deceased worker's body for days, but saw an opportunity Wednesday to remove some debris from above his remains, which ended up on the first floor.
A spokesperson for the tenant of the garage Enterprise Ann Parking says the company is devastated by the death of longtime employee Moore and by the injuries others suffered.
The company says it is fully cooperating with city agencies who are investigating the incident.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
ALSO READ | FDNY deployed robotic Dalmatian dog to survey unstable collapsed parking garage in Manhattan
* Get Eyewitness News Delivered
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
Submit a News Tip