Firefighters search for anyone trapped after corner of Bronx apartment building collapses

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NEW YORK (AP) — 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.

There were no reports of injuries as of early evening and the proprietor of the ground floor shop said the people inside got out safely, city officials said. But 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.”

Officials were looking into what caused the collapse, which happened at a 1927 building that had been undergoing facade repairs.

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.”

A 2020 inspection found cracked brick and loose, damaged mortar on the building’s facade, Buildings Department records show. Commissioner Jimmy Oddo said Monday that work had started but he didn’t believe any workers were there at the time of the collapse.

“I want to be clear: Unsafe facade conditions is not the same as an unsafe building,” he said at the news conference. While the property had seven unresolved violations, they weren’t structural, he said.

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.

Security camera video obtained by several news organizations showed people scattering off the sidewalk as debris rained down in a billowing cloud of dust.

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.

Building resident Norma Arias told The New York Times she had just returned from buying cilantro at the bodega when she heard a loud boom in her first floor apartment and heard a neighbor scream, “Everybody get out. The building is coming down.”

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.

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This story has been corrected to show that the building is seven stories tall, not six stories tall.

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Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak and Cedar Attanasio contributed.

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