A Slow Return to Normalcy at New York Crane Accident Site

March 24, 2008

The boom of debris landing in metal trash bins echoed down the street, startling pedestrians in a neighborhood still scarred by the crane accident that upended life in this stretch of midtown Manhattan.

Workers are clearing the site where the 20-story crane crushed one town house and damaged at least seven other buildings. But the sound of things getting back to normal is an unwelcome reminder for some.

“I’m still scared when I hear the men working,” 73-year-old Cathy Logue said of the clean up in her neighborhood, where she lives next to the town house that was decimated by the crane. “I’m scared that something else is going to fall.”

Like many of her neighbors, Logue has returned home. Along the avenue, shuttered businesses have reopened their doors. But the damage and the fear sparked by the collapse still remain.

“We were lucky,” said Ken Sofer, who was allowed back into his restaurant on Saturday, steps from where the crane toppled over. “We were kind of grazed. We were very, very lucky.”

Sofer was greeted by the smell of rotting food and alcohol. Crushed paper cups, bags of garbage and overturned bottles littered the floor. Pedestrians stopped to gawk at the scene.

“People died in this area,” Sofer said of the six construction workers and a tourist who were killed. “How can I complain?”

By Saturday, most of the police tape and barricades stretched across streets had been removed. All but four of the 18 evacuated buildings were allowing residents back into their apartments.

But returning was difficult for those like Logue, who was thrown to the ground in what she thought was an explosion. Several days later, she suffered a heart attack, which she attributes to the stress of the accident.

Now, back from the hospital, she is still without phone or television service. And she is still afraid.

“People are still really upset and traumatized,” said neighborhood resident Mike Marino, 48. “There’s another huge crane on 51st Street. Everyone’s nervous about it. It looks like one of those mega cranes again.”

Community members had complained about the construction site, where the crane detached and fell across a city block, for weeks. Over the last 27 months, the city had issued 13 violations to the site, where a 43-story high-rise condominium was going up not far from the United Nations.

City inspector Edward Marquette, 46, has been accused of lying about examining the crane. He was arrested on charges of falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing, buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster said.

Lancaster ordered an immediate inspection of all cranes he had checked over the last six months.

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