4th Body Found In Garage Collapse

Inspectors survey the damage to a five-story section of a parking garage under construction that collapsed at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, N.J. Thursday, Oct. 30, 2003. The accident killed one person and injured at least 20, officials said. AP

Rescue workers gingerly searching through the wreckage of a partially collapsed casino parking garage found the body of a fourth victim early Friday in a crushed stairwell.

"We have him," said James Foley, task force leader of the New Jersey Urban Search and Rescue team. Because of the location and the danger of the unstable wreckage, it took several hours to get the body out.

Two other people were found dead Thursday, several hours after the top five floors of the new 10-story garage fell as construction workers were pouring concrete. Another died at a hospital, and 20 others were injured.

The cement slabs that had been the garage's top floors slopped precariously down as floodlights illuminated more than 150 search-and-rescue experts, engineers and firefighters cutting through concrete and pulled away rubble by hand through the night.

Workmen had been pouring concrete on the top floor of the structure when the floors collapsed about 10:40 a.m.

Workers rushed from the building, some carrying out their bloodied colleagues. Harold Simmons, 42, a pipe fitter, was on the second floor when he heard rumbling. About 300 to 400 workers were at the site, he said.

"It sounded like an earthquake. The whole building was shaking. You didn't know where to run. I tried to run to a staircase, but the staircase was wiped out. I went to another staircase and that one was wiped out," Simmons said.
Portions of the building were still moving slightly for hours after the collapse, and authorities warned that a second collapse could occur at any time.

"It will be a long process," said Michael Schurman, deputy director of emergency management for Atlantic County. "It's a very unstable building."

The cause of the collapse was unknown, and the identities of the dead and injured were not immediately released.

Stacey Strasky, 40, said she had been outside the parking garage Sunday and heard popping and wailing coming from the building. She told a security guard, who said the building was only settling.

On Thursday, Strasky said her concerns should have been forwarded to someone with more authority.

"For in-house security to blow it off as being just the settling of construction, that's not professional," she said. "I'm angry. There are human lives at stake here."

Gary Roskoski, area director for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said investigators would examine blueprints for the building and the cure rate for the concrete used in its construction. The cure rate is the time it takes for poured concrete to settle and harden. Concrete is stronger once it has hardened.

In October 2002, three workers on the same site were injured there when a one-story prefabricated panel of concrete they were standing on collapsed.

The general contractor of the garage was Keating Construction Corp., said Jennifer Monahan, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Codes and Standards.

"This is a difficult time. Obviously, our first concern is the well-being of the people that are injured or missing," the company said in a statement.

The casino remained open Thursday, but a 10-block square area around it was closed to traffic, causing gridlock throughout the city. The new structure, including a parking garage and hotel expansion, was expected to be completed in 2004.
  • Jarrett Murphy

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