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1 dead, 2 rescued after construction site collapse

March 22, 2012 3:07:59 PM PDT
One construction worker is dead and two others are recovering after they were trapped in a construction site collapse in Morningside Heights Thursday morning.

The collapse happened at the intersection of Broadway and West 131st Street, part of a major expansion of Columbia University, just before 8 a.m. The university says the workers were involved in demolition at the time of the collapse.

The two survivors are at St. Luke's Hospital, one in critical condition and the other listed in serious condition.

Investigators are looking into whether human error could have played a role in the tragedy.

Eyewitnesses listened in horror to the screams of the workers. The three men were trapped under steel, bricks and concrete after they apparently cut a beam that was essential to the structure's stability.

"The workers on site had cut a structural beam," said Robert LiMandri, from the Department of Buildings. "After they cut that structural beam, the site became unstable and there was a collapse."

Two of the men were partially pinned, while the third was completely buried. Firefighters worked frantically to free him.

"He was confirmed to be alive, and we were tunneling with tools, and we finally got him out via the tunnel," FDNY Deputy Chief James Nicholas said. "It took about 45 minutes to get the third victim out. It was very difficult and hazardous removal."

That man was one of the ones who survived. Unfortunately, his colleague was not so lucky and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

He was later identified as Juan Ruiz, 69, of the Bronx. Surviving workers are Sakim Kirby, 30, of the Bronx and King Range, 60, of Manhattan. Both are in stable condition at St. Luke's Hospital.

The site was reportedly slapped with building code violations on March 5, one for not safeguarding the on-site workers. It is one of the many pieces of the investigation being closely scrutinized by the buildings department.

At least a part of those citations were for workers not wearing required harnesses. Eyewitness News is told the problems were fixed and the work was allowed to continue.

CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTOS FROM THE SCENE

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