Firefighters tunnel through a large pile of debris as they search for victims after part of a seven-story building suddenly collapsed in the Bronx on Monday afternoon.
Fire officials said injuries were not immediately confirmed. “We don’t know if anyone is trapped there. I hope not,” John J. Hodgens, head of the department, said Monday night at a news conference near the 46-unit building in the Morris Heights section.
Chief Hodgens said officials do not yet know what caused the partial collapse. “We’re looking for life,” he said. “That’s our main objective at the moment.”
initial Photos and videos The display rooms at the corner of the 1915 Billingsley Terrace building were exposed, almost as if the walls had been ripped out. Evidence of life affected by the partial collapse peeked out from tangles of metal and wood.
In the street, walls and bricks lay in a mess below the flats now exposed to the cool afternoon air.
First-floor resident Norma Arias, who has lived in the building since 2009, said she was returning from a bodega to buy cilantro when she heard a loud boom.
The neighbor ran down the hallway screaming: “Everybody get out. The building is collapsing,” said Ms. Arias, 69.
Ms. Arias said she grabbed her passport and ID and ran outside.
“I almost died on that slope,” he said.
Maritelza Fana, 50, a school bus driver who lives on the third floor, waited at the light as the building collapsed. She was looking for a place to park the empty bus when she looked in the rearview mirror and saw debris falling when she heard a loud bang.
She slammed on the gas, feared the building would collapse on the bus, and then threw herself out the passenger side door.
“I’m still shaking,” Ms Fana said. “I thought I was going to die.”
Residents have been evacuated and sent to a nearby school as firefighters continue to search.
The fire department said it arrived within two minutes and cautioned that its investigation into the collapse was in its early stages. Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said a canine unit had been brought in to help search for anyone trapped. A drone was also deployed to assist in the search.
Commissioner Kavanagh said until emergency workers “find someone or make sure there’s no one under the rubble.”
According to city building records, there have been questions about the building’s safety over the years. The ground floor houses a number of shops, including a market on the corner of West Burnside Avenue and Phelan Place.
Ms. Fana, who lives on the third floor, said people have been complaining about the dilapidated building for years.
“People said the place was going to fall to pieces,” Ms Fana said. “But no one imagined this.”
She said she believed her apartment was undamaged, but didn’t want to go inside.
“Now nobody wants to stay there,” he said. “Nobody wants to sleep there.”
Flor Jimimian, who owns the tax preparation office on the ground floor of J&G Multi Services, said the collapse happened minutes after a major water leak in the first-floor market. He said that within 20 seconds of coming out of the store to investigate the leak, the side of the building caved in in front of him.
“I was very lucky, now that I think about it,” Ms Jimimian said.
Last month, the building department released $2,400 fine The owner of the building had “deteriorated and broken mudguards” at the base of the scaffolding covering the property. Damage can be better read as “causing a potential collapse of the structural stability” of the scaffolding.
The building is owned by a limited liability company. The company could not be reached for comment.
After Monday’s collapse, the city’s Department of Emergency Management issued a request Structural stability study of the site.
In 2020, the building’s brick facade was deemed “unsafe,” after a required inspection by a structural engineer revealed “significant masonry damage to the facade,” including cracks in the brick. The owner was ordered to fix the exterior; It was not immediately clear whether repairs had been completed on Monday.
The engineer’s report determined that it was “generally caused by aging” and exposure to the elements.
Henry Crullen, 53, who lives nearby, said: “Everyone is scared. “I know people in buildings around here who are like, ‘Oh, my God, is my building next?’
Kitty Bennet Research contributed.