Demolition of collapsed garage in Lower Manhattan delayed by fears of secondary collapses
The cleanup process continued Friday as cars are being plucked one by one and debris is slowly taken away from the site of the deadly garage collapse in Lower Manhattan.
The century old garage pancaked without warning earlier this week, not only crushing vehicles, but injuring garage workers and killing the manager, Willis Moore.
The “incredibly complex” and “very very dangerous” controlled demolition of a the collapsed parking garage has been delayed by fears of secondary collapses — and city officials pleaded with evacuated residents not to lose patience.
“We are not rushing through this cleanup,” Emergency Management Commissioner Zachary Iscol said during a public safety briefing. “Safety right now is our number one priority. We are working very hard right now to ensure the stability of the surrounding structures as we proceed with the demolition.”
Iscol said fears of secondary collapses of buildings adjacent to 57 Ann street are slowing down both the deconstruction of the parking garage and the retrieval of up to 90 cars — most of which will likely be totaled in the removal process.
He specifically said the wall separating the collapsed building and one owned by Pace University must be temporarily braced “to make sure that wall doesn’t come down in the course of demolition, this work takes time, its complicated and it has also delayed our ability to continue the demolition and extraction of vehicles.”
City officials believe weight of the cars and the age of the building may have played a role in this collapse, but the investigation is still ongoing.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has opened an investigation into the collapse, a spokesperson said.
Following the collapse, the city Buildings Department checked the 17 other garages operated by the same parking garage company, but they said “nothing has been found that would cause us to evacuate or vacate any of those buildings.”
City officials said 47 SUVs were parked on the roof at the time of the collapse, and while it remains unknown if their weight was a contributing factor, the company was permitted to park more than 50 vehicles on the roof under its current certificate of occupancy, which dates back to the 1950s.
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.
Residents speak out as some lose patience
Nearby residents spoke on Friday about their frustrations of not being allowed in their buildings to get their things — or even their pets.
Vicci Travlos was allowed back in to her apartment Thursday and left her dog when she left for an overnight shift at work, but now she can’t get back in.
“They’re not letting residents in, they haven’t notified residents, that they’re not going to be allowed to go into their homes to collect other living things,” Travlos said.
Angelina Ramsey and her family were allowed back in Thursday and spent the night.
“Overall it was calm minus the fact they were like, ‘we might turn off your electricity and gas but we don’t know for sure,’ so it was just frustrating.”
The city is worried about the danger that adjacent buildings could collapse.
City officials said they understand the vacate orders are an inconvenience but public safety is the number one priority due to immediate hazards of the building.
Simon Ramsey said it’s getting to the point where he is just really angry, but he was eventually able to get his stuff Friday and Travlos was able to get her dog who seemed none the worse for wear.
The investigation continues
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.
According to floor plans obtained by Eyewitness News, an engineering report commissioned by the building’s owner in 2010 uncovered issues with the roof and ceiling.
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. “Parking garages are very corrosive environments, they bring water and salt inside the structure, corrodes the steel reinforcement.”
Remembering the victim
The 98-year-old building collapsed in a loud roar that sent neighbors and shopkeepers into a panic. 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.