San Francisco, California
5 Die – High-rise Boom Hits Buildings, Vehicles In San Francisco
From his 21st-floor office, Philip Auyoung had watched with fascination for months as construction workers built a high-rise just across the street. But Tuesday he watched with horror as a construction crane toppled, sending three workers to their deaths 16 stories below.
“I could see their faces as they fell,” Auyoung said. “It was so horrible. They tried to grab onto a support but they just couldn’t.”
The three were among five people killed when the crane boom swung around and broke off its support column, smashing into two other buildings as it fell and crushed a school van, a transit bus and several cars in the street below. The other victims were a construction worker on the ground and the driver of the van, which was otherwise empty. Twenty-one survivors were taken to hospitals, including three in critical condition.
It was about 8:15 a.m. when the broken crane brought concrete and twisted steel raining down on one of the city’s busiest intersections, in the heart of the financial district. The two damaged buildings were evacuated and the city closed a four-block area for cleanup and repairs that could last as long as a week.
The California Street cable car line also was shut down.
“The steel beams in that building look like pickup sticks and you can see that the crane fell through the street below and into the underground garages,” Acting Mayor Angela Alioto said after surveying the wreckage from the 20th story of a building the Bank of America`s corporate headquarters across the intersection of Kearny and California streets.
As night fell, crane experts from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration hadn`t been able to determine what caused the collapse. Tuesday night, a prosecutor said criminal negligence charges had been filed twice previously against the project`s general contractor for accidents on Los Angeles construction sites. The charges were filed against the company, Swinerton & Walberg Co. of San Francisco, in 1981 and 1986 for separate accidents on the Los Angeles sites, said Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. Michael Guarino.
In the 1986 case, Guarino said, the firm was a codefendant in a case stemming from a construction site accident that killed three ironworkers after the steel superstructure of a 21-story office building was overloaded.
In Tuesday`s accident, Swinerton & Walberg said the crane was being repositioned from the 16th story to the 20th story as the Federal Home Loan Bank building neared its planned height. Auyoung, a 51-year-old broker, was watching this when he sensed something was wrong.
“In the control box up on top,” he explained, “there’s always a person sitting there to make sure everything is motionless. But this time I didn`t see anyone up there and I had just turned to my partner and was saying that to him and before I could finish the sentence, this happened.”
An official for Swinerton & Walberg said the repositioning was a
“routine operation.” He denied reports by some workers that the crane was lifting steel while it was being repositioned.
Several wives of men on the construction crew rushed to the scene when they heard about the accident on the radio.