2 factors eyed in deadly Lower Manhattan garage collapse; building considered unstable

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, April 20, 2023
Delicate demolition underway aftter deadly Manhattan garage collapse
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Josh Einiger has more on the efforts to clear away the parking garage that collapsed on Tuesday.

LOWER MANHATTAN, Manhattan (WABC) -- A four-story garage collapsed in Lower Manhattan Tuesday, leaving one dead, several injured and cars crushed. Now investigators are looking at two reasons the collapse may have happened.

The Manhattan district attorney's office will investigate the collapse of the Ann St. parking garage, a spokeswoman for the office confirmed on Wednesday.

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, the Mayor's Office estimated that there were approximately 80 to 90 cars parked on the roof, and the age of the building.

The sheer weight of the cars-as much as a quarter of a million pounds-might have been enough to trigger the collapse. For the moment, securing the site is the top priority.

Here are three things we know about the demolition process:

  • On Wednesday, contractors removed a substantial part of the front of the building and already removed six cars from the wreckage one by one. They were battered, dusty and dented -- some, with their car alarms still flashing. Contractors were expected to remove additional cars on Wednesday and more in the coming days.
  • The FDNY is taking steps to prevent fires from the cars removed from the structures. The vehicles contain potentially flammable materials, either gas tanks or electric batteries, that could be dangerous during the deconstruction. All utilities to the building were immediately shut off following the initial collapse.
  • The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is conducting air monitoring for asbestos in the vicinity of the garage. The Mayor's Office says that all results so far have come in below limits set by New York state and New York City.
  • With all of the customers and parking attendants accounted for, building inspectors and FDNY investigators were working at the scene and in the surrounding neighborhood interviewing witnesses, checking records and examining the debris.

    But the entire site remains unstable. Automobiles and slabs of cement have shifted, making it unsafe to enter the site. Authorities say the garage will need to be broken down and demolished-the cars will need to be cut up and removed in pieces. It will take days, maybe weeks, to clear the site.

    Ann Street remained closed Wednesday between William and Nassau Streets, right where the building is located.

    WATCH | NYC parking garage collapse: What cleanup crews have to contend with

    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 -- his body was trapped in the debris and was later removed Wednesday night. Neighbors identified the victim as the 59-year-old parking garage manager Willis Moore.

    "Right now, we're transitioning to how we safely take down that building, and it's incredibly complex," said NYC Emergency Management Commissioner Zachary Iscol. "There's over 50 cars on the roof. The building is not structurally sound. You think about hazardous materials that are in the garage, right? Gas tanks, fluids-further complicated by the fact that there are possibly some electric vehicles in that garage. So there's a remarkable operation that is going that is starting now."

    Unable to search the wreckage themselves, firefighters used new technology, including a robotic dog and drones, to look for signs of life amid the ruins and streamed video in real-time. No other victims were found.

    "We deployed our robot dog into the building they were able to give us a video inside and then we're able to fly drones inside to conduct an assessment and conduct searches," FDNY Chief of Operations John Esposito said.

    Officials evacuated the Pace University building that is next to the collapsed garage. The school announced classes would be remote on Wednesday to ensure the safety of faculty and students. One university building remains closed.

    Eyewitness News Reporter Janice Yu spoke to one Pace student who recalled seeing the garage's concrete floors fall on top of each other one after another, all the way to the basement.

    In addition, nearby residents who were asked to vacate have been offered immediate relocation assistance by the American Red Cross.

    There are four open violations by the city's Department of Buildings at 57 Ann Street. The most recent of those was from 2013, the others are older than that.

    Two additional open violations are for non-safety related defects found during periodic elevator inspections, the department said. It's unclear whether any of the violations contributed to the collapse.

    Eyewitness News reporter Josh Einiger spoke to a witness who had just exited the garage before it collapsed.

    "I didn't think about it much before but now it's starting to hit home," witness Jim Slattery said. "I had no idea a collapse had occurred. I was lucky today."

    ALSO READ | FDNY deployed robotic Dalmatian dog to survey unstable collapsed parking garage in Manhattan

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