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Crane falls on NYC apartments
At least four dead after structure collapses on Manhattan's East Side

NEW YORK - A crane mounted to the side of a skyscraper under construction toppled with a roar Saturday, smashing into a block of apartment buildings, killing at least four people and setting off a scramble for survivors in the rubble.

The crane split into pieces as it fell, pulverizing a four-story brownstone and demolishing parts of three other buildings.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at least four people, believed to be construction workers, have died and at least 10 people were injured in one of the city's worst construction accidents in recent memory.

The collapse created a virtual war zone on an affluent block on Manhattan's East Side: Cars were overturned and crushed. A huge dust cloud rose over the neighborhood. Rubble was piled several stories high.

'It's a horrible situation, very gory. There's blood in the street,' said Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who takes over as governor for disgraced Eliot Spitzer on Monday.

An intensive rescue operation was under way to find anyone possibly trapped. One man was pulled from a collapsed townhouse 31/2 hours after the building was crushed.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said the rescue was 'a painstaking hand operation, as we try to remove the rubble so we don't cause further collapse or injure anyone who may still be in that building.' He said the operation would continue all night if necessary, including the use of search dogs and thermal-imaging and listening devices.

John PlaGreco, who owns Fubar in the crushed building, said he feared one of his employees was dead inside.

'Our bar is done,' he said. 'The crane crashed the whole building. If I wasn't watching a Yankees game, I would've come to work early and gotten killed.'

About 19 of the planned 44-story condominium had been erected, and the crane was scheduled to be extended Saturday so workers could start work on a fresh story, said an owner of the company that manages the construction site.

A piece of steel fell and sheared off one of the ties holding it to the building, causing it to detach and topple, said Stephen Kaplan, an owner of the Reliance Construction Group.

'It was an absolute freak accident,' Kaplan said. 'All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened.'

Kaplan said the company had subcontracted the work to different companies and was not in charge of the crane. Phone messages and an e-mail left for the crane company were not immediately returned.

Kaplan wasn't sure whether any workers at the site were among those killed.

Neighborhood residents said they had complained to the city several times about the construction at the site, saying crews worked illegal hours and the building was going up too fast.

City Building Department records showed that on March 4, a caller told officials that the upper portions of the crane appeared to lack the proper number of safety ties attaching it to the building.

A city inspector visited the site and determined on March 6 that no violation was warranted.