BRONX, N.Y. - Firefighters scoured a mound of rubble to ensure no one was trapped Monday evening after a corner of a seven-story Bronx apartment building collapsed, leaving apartments exposed like a stack of shelves and a convenience store partly buried under bricks and wood.
The collapse happened at 1915 Billingsley Terrace near West Burnside Avenue in the Morris Heights neighborhood around 3:30 p.m.
Firefighters used buckets, power tools and heavy equipment to pick through the debris, while officials kept a watchful eye on the portions of the building that remained standing.
"Our main objective is to get to the bottom of that pile," Fire Department Chief of Department John Hodgens said at a news conference. "We'll be here until it’s down to the street level, just to make sure if there are any victims under there, hopefully we can get to them in time."
Two injuries were reported.
Tenants told FOX 5 NY the collapse does not come as a surprise, and that they have been complaining about the building for years.
NYC Buildings Department Commissioner James Oddo said that records show that the building's owner submitted a report in March 2021 that found seven unsafe facade conditions, along with deteriorating mortar and cracked bricks. He did, however, stress that unsafe facade conditions are not the same as an unsafe building.
The owner of the building secured a permit from the city to repair the building which was built in 1927.
"Work was being done on this building as recently as a few days ago," Commissioner Oddo said.
A worker at a nearby deli, Julian Rodriguez, said he was behind the counter when he heard people screaming about a building collapse.
"When I went outside, all you could see is the debris and a smoke cloud in the street," said Rodriguez, 22. "And you could see inside the structure: people’s beds, their doors, closets, lights, everything. It was really scary."
A corner of the building stood with its walls sheared off and floors sagging, with a heap of debris spilling out into the street. In one apartment, a bed stood feet away from the edge of a floor that now jutted out into the air; in another, art hanging on the wall was visible. Elsewhere, an armchair rested on a floor that tilted precariously down, like the top of a staved-in box.
One of the collapsed rooms appeared to be a child's bedroom. A tiny pink jacket hung on a hook. Boxes of playthings and clothing were visible on cabinets that still stood on the remaining parts of the floor.
Firefighters shined bright lights into apartment windows from high ladders and used at least one drone to peer in. A search dog plied the pile, which included twisted and jumbled metal, apparently from scaffolding, and a robotic dog also headed into the debris.
Firefighters carted away rubble in buckets and used circular saws to cut through the collapsed scaffolding, and an excavator clawed through the rubble.
"We’re tunneling into that debris pile as safely as we can," Hodgens said. "Firefighters right now are in a dangerous position. We don’t know what caused this corner of this building to come down. We don’t know if any of it is going to come down."
Oddo said officials would scrutinize drawings pertaining to the collapsed area. The images were submitted as part of permitting for the facade work.
The phone rang unanswered at a possible number for the building’s owner.
A resident of the building's sixth floor, Domingo Taveras Tejada, said he was slightly hurt in the panic of the escape.
"When I heard the collapse, I went running and I fell down the stairs. When I went outside, I saw the collapse," the 32-year-old said.
Buildings Department records show the structure has nearly 50 apartments. Residents were being directed to a school to get help, and the city was parking buses near the building as a place to stay warm.
Written with the Associated Press.