NEW YORK (AP) — Crews pulled a body from the rubble of a New York City parking garage Wednesday, as building inspectors sought to pinpoint a cause for the century-old structure’s deadly collapse.
It was a delicate operation to recover the victim and remove as many as 90 vehicles scattered on the structure’s buckled top deck and amid tons of shattered concrete. Crews used cranes to pluck cars from the ruins one by one but made only modest progress.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has opened an investigation into the collapse, a spokesperson said. 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.
“Right now we’re transitioning to how we safely take down that building,” Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol said at a news conference, a day after the multilevel building crumbled just as a stream of customers were returning from work to retrieve their cars.
Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said crews recovered the body late Wednesday, and it was turned over to the city’s chief medical examiner’s office. The identity of the victim was not immediately released, and it was not immediately known if it was that of a missing garage worker.
Enterprise Ann Parking, which operated the garage on Ann Street, said it was cooperating with authorities on the probe.
“This is a tragic event. We are devastated at the loss of one of our long-time employees and our thoughts are with his family and those who were injured in the accident,” the company’s spokesman, Jeremy Zweig, said in a statement.
“We thank all of the first responders who quickly attended to those who were impacted and appreciate their courageous work,” the statement continued.
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.
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.
“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.
Theories abounded, and officials said they would consider all potential explanations — including the possibility that the structural integrity of older parking structures might be undermined by today’s heavier SUVs.
The mayor said that could be a matter worthy of investigation.
“We are living in a new environment and we have to constantly analyze and upgrade everything from weight capacity to how many cars can be there,” Adams said.
The garage caved at around 4 p.m. Tuesday, a few blocks from City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge, killing at least one person and injuring five others.
The collapse shook nearby buildings and terrified people who likened the sound to a massive explosion and the experience to a violent earthquake.
Pace University evacuated an adjacent dormitory and a classroom building and canceled evening classes as it assessed its buildings’ safety. City inspectors told Pace it could resume use of the buildings, though the school said it would hold some classes online and have staff work remotely for the time being, university spokesperson Jerry McKinstry said.
In all, six nearby buildings were under evacuation orders pending inspections, according to city officials.
The Building Department said that in 2009, the garage’s owners had been cited for failing to maintain the building because of cracks and defects in concrete. Officials ordered the owner to hire a professional engineer and correct the violations. The owners began complying in January 2010 and filed applications to make structural repairs and install 34 auto lifts.
In November 2011 an inspection found that the interior maintenance was “in good condition.” But city officials said they never received the required certificates of correction for previous violations, even though the owner paid all associated penalties.
The mayor said the body of the man killed in the collapse was discovered by a doglike robot deployed by the Fire Department to search the ruins, and he defended his decision last week to allow the Police Department to use such machines after receiving criticism.
“We did not want to send people inside there. We couldn’t even send a cadaver dog in there, because that cadaver dog would have gone in there and could have potentially had a collapse and harmed someone,” Adams said earlier in the day.
“If we didn’t have that robotic dog, we would have placed those firefighters in jeopardy,” the mayor added.
As heavy machinery began demolishing the building and filled the area with thick clouds of dust, 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.”
Adam Cohen, who lives in a nearby building, said his family had not been allowed to return home. A nearby hotel was also temporarily shuttered as a precaution.
Cohen showed a photo of the top deck of the parking garage and pointed to his Nissan Pathfinder, which had been swallowed by a huge fissure, its tail end pointing to the sky.
Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak and Karen Matthews in New York City, and Maysoon Khan in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.