Crane building the city’s swankiest address has another accident forcing evacuations

Posted at 8:47 PM, Oct 07, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-07 20:53:22-04

MIDTOWN (PIX11) – Almost exactly a year after a construction crane collapsed under the extreme conditions of Superstorm Sandy, the crane that replaced it developed problems that shut down part of Midtown Monday, and forced evacuation and shelter in place orders for thousands of people.

The culprit: a 13,500 pound concrete block that dangled over one of the city’s busiest streets.  57th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, is the location of One57, a 1004 foot tall skyscraper that will be the tallest residential tower in the city, and, in fact, all of the Western Hemisphere, once it’s completed.  Getting to that point has proven to be no small task.

“This crane is cursed,” said Lefteris Daskapulos.  “All the time, something’s going on with that crane,” said Daskapulos, the manager of a restaurant a few doors east of the record-breaking superluxury building under construction.

This time, the crane had been hoisting the nearly seven ton elevator counterweight around 9:20 A.M., when the weight got stuck in mid-air for five hours, and dangled 43 stories above the street.  The crane’s pulley system was apparently disabled by a faulty brake in the system, which made it impossible for the crane to lift.  The brake also prevented the crane from being able to lower the huge concrete block with any speed or ease after it had gotten stuck on its way up.

“Enough is enough with them,” said Daskapulos.  “Let’s finish with the crane, put them down and that’s it.”

He was referring to the owners of the crane, Extell Development Company, which  had also operated the crane whose boom had crumpled during Sandy.

“Deja vu from a year ago,” is how Charlotte Bush described the scene.  She works in a women’s shoe design firm almost directly across the street from the crane and its immense weight.  She and dozens of her colleagues were given one message from first responders around 11:00 A.M.

“Nothing other than we have to evacuate,” Bush told PIX11 News.  “With a storm coming, it’s very necessary.”

It all happened while a tornado watch was in effect.  The NYPD, FDNY, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Department of Buildings were all concerned that a forecasted severe storm could produce sustained winds and gusts so strong that the concrete weight would end up swinging like a pendulum and hit buildings.  Another emergency scenario envisioned the nearly seven ton weight falling off in the winds.

That was why ConEd and the Department of Public Works were brought in, to depressurize a steam tunnel running under 57th Street, and to turn off a water main and monitor a gas line in the block.  If any of that infrastructure was impacted by a 13,500 pound weight falling 43 stories, there could have easily been flooding or an explosion, or both.

Police kept thousands more people a block or more away from the scene, and shut down nearby subway exits.  Among the many people prevented from going to where they had been heading was Richard Pyle.  He had been on his way to the Directors’ Guild movie theater across the street from the dangling load.  Rather than allow him and dozens of others to get near the theater, firefighters used the area below the building’s long awning as a staging area, sheltered from Monday afternoon’s steady rain.

“We came to see the movie ‘Gravity,'” Pyle said.  “These guys [dealing with the crane] could use a little bit of that.”

They also needed the pulley system on the crane to work properly.  It managed to do that just well enough mid-afternoon to allow the weight to be lowered back down to the ground about six hours and twenty minutes after it had gotten stuck.

An OEM spokesperson told PIX11 News that the crane’s hoisting and pulley apparatus will now have to be repaired and inspected.  That process that could take days, if not all week.