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Construction Crane Collapses Onto Tappan Zee Bridge; One Lane Seriously Damaged

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was miraculous that a catastrophe was averted when a giant construction crane collapsed Tuesday onto the Tappan Zee Bridge.

All but one lane of the bridge had reopened late Tuesday night, it was expected to be that way for the morning commute as well. But crews were expected to be out all night working to clear debris.

Cuomo said the 256-foot tall crane was a new piece of equipment, and was driving piles into the new bridge, when it collapsed onto the 62-year-old existing bridge around noon Tuesday.

"A very loud rumble -- it was almost earthquake-like," said Michael Simboli of Grand View.

CBS2's Brian Conybeare used to work on the Tappan Zee Bridge as a spokesman. All the officials he spoke with said they could not believe that the disaster wasn't far worse.

Amazingly, no cars were hit by the falling steel crane boom. But two cars crashed trying to avoid it, and three people suffered "very minor injuries," Cuomo said.

Cuomo Update On Tappan Zee Crane Collapse

UPDATE: Governor Andrew Cuomo says northbound lanes of the Tappan Zee Bridge are being reopened. One southbound lane will reopen at 7 p.m. and another will reopen at 8 p.m. The third southbound lane will remain closed into the morning rush. More:

Posted by CBS New York on Tuesday, July 19, 2016

One construction worker also suffered minor injuries, according to Cuomo's office. The crane operator was not injured.

"We were very, very fortunate that the situation wasn't worse," Cuomo said.

The crane was holding a vibratory pile-driving hammer that weighs 121,000-lbs. Engineers said it is a new crane, and it was not wind that caused the collapse.

"Obviously, it's one of three issues, right?" said Tappan Zee Constructors President Terry Towle. "It's a problem with the crane, it's a problem with the hammer, or it's operator error."

Images from the scene showed a mess of mangled metal scattered across the roadway.

PHOTOS: Tappan Zee Bridge Crane Collapse | TRAFFIC: Click Here For Current Conditions

Crews from several agencies responded to the scene, including the Coast Guard and units from Rockland County, Piermont, Nyack and Parkway Police, among others.

All traffic on the bridge was closed following the incident, but the northbound lanes reopened late Tuesday afternoon.

One of the southbound lanes reopened at 7 p.m., and two more at 8 p.m.

The southernmost of the southbound lanes has sustained serious structural damage, Cuomo said.

"It is what I would call significant damage. It's clearly visible," he said.

That lane sustained both surface damage, and damage underneath the bridge, Cuomo said.

For any of the southbound lanes to reopen, some surface plates must be put in place for stabilization, and moving barriers will also take time, Cuomo said.

Still, Cuomo advised that to avoid southbound traffic jams alternatives might be a good idea Tuesday evening, even with lanes open in both directions. The George Washington Bridge, the Kingston Bridge and the Bear Mountain Bridge are all options, he said.

The Lincoln Tunnel far to the south, and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge 57 miles to the north, are also potential options, CBS2's Dave Carlin reported.

Many witnesses felt they were lucky to escape when the crane came down.

"No warning whatsoever," witness Balam Arana told CBS2's Jessica Layton.

When Arana left his house for the gym Tuesday morning, he never dreamed he would witness a huge crane come crashing down across the bridge, which he drives over almost every day.

"It was a lot of chaos; a lot of crushing; a lot of metal everywhere," Arana said.

At first he thought he was witnessing only a car accident in front of him. He swerved left and then saw why the couple cars ahead of him were stopping short.

"The crane started to come down," Arana said. "It was very slow in the beginning, but then it just crashed right across the bridge."

Arana then started snapping the photos of the crazy scene.

"Everybody was concerned to see, is anybody hurt?" he said.

CBS2 was there as Arana embraced his partner, Michael Armbruster of Ossining, in a parking lot for the first time after the crane collapse.

"It could have been completely different," Armbruster said.

The two were on the phone when the crane came down.

"And I'm like, 'Are you OK?' and he says, 'I just missed; the construction almost hit me,'" Armbruster said.

Lawrence Morra was one of the first responders who rushed to the scene.

"I thought I was going into a big mess," Morra said.

Morra rode with one of the injured women to the hospital, where she was treated for minor injuries.

"Thank God there wasn't a lot of traffic when the crane fell," he said. "It really covered all northbound sides of the lanes."

Arana said he was "very lucky and a little bit, like, shaken up" following the accident. It was a call too close that he'll likely carry with him forever.

Others watched the collapse from within view of the scene. One woman, Trish, was standing outside an apartment complex right along the Tappan Zee Bridge in South Nyack when she heard a loud bang.

"One of the other guys said oh that's not supposed to happen and I said what just happened? And I turned and looked and he said the crane just fell down," Trish told WCBS 880's Mike Smeltz.

Turning around, Trish saw the crane's red boom laid out across the bridge. Immediately, her mind jumped to the worst possible scenario.

"So it was very, very noisy, and unfortunately because of the world we live in today, my first thought was terrorism," she said.

Later Tuesday, news of the growing traffic jam and numerous roadblocks and detours reached Walter Joyce before he left his office, so he put in overtime until 10 p.m. at his office to avoid getting stuck.

"Who knows? I could've been sitting in the traffic for three hours, so I might as well take care of what I need to do," Joyce told CBS2's Dave Carlin.

Rachel Rosado of New City traveled from Rockland County to Westchester County taking the Tappan Zee bridge, but on her way home she was rerouted -- way out of her way.

"We were redirected through Garrison, so we had to get to Putnam Valley first, and then we came to Rockland County through Cortlandt, and the Bear Mountain Bridge, and we finally came up the Palisades," Rosado said. "Thinking about it now that could've been us, but luckily it wasn't."

Meanwhile, Town of Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner is calling for an investigation into what happened.

"I hope that the state will conduct an extensive review of the bridge construction safety oversight," he told WCBS 880. "We were really very fortunate. It was a miracle that there were no fatalities or serious injuries. It could have been much, much worse."

Construction on the new Tappan Zee Bridge has been underway for three years. The $3.9 billion project, which is being built alongside the old span, is expected to be completed by 2018.

In March, three crew members were killed when their 90-foot tugboat sank after it hit a construction barge near the bridge site.

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