by Nushin Rashidian and Matthew Huisman
Alyson Martin contributed reporting to this story.
At 11 am on Monday, Ken Corey noticed a vertical crack running down the side of a brick building undergoing renovation at 34 Conselyea St. in Williamsburg. The crack looked noticeably wider than before, and had grown from one to three inches. He said to his friends, “That building is coming down.”
He was right, and a little over one hour later, the building collapsed. Police and firefighters arrived in minutes.
“You could see it from the top of the building down,” Corey said referring to the vertical crack. “With all the rain it must have just softened up the ground and shifted the foundation.”
Corey, who owns the apartment building across the street, was retrieving a piece of paper from his car when he heard a “big thud.” Brick and mortar came crashing down on four men working on the building, trapping one man underneath the rubble. “As I looked up it was just a pool of smoke. I said ‘My God, you can imagine what 9/11 was like.’”
Anna Ambrosino, who has lived across from the renovation site for 60 years, was sitting on a chair in her living room facing a street level window and reading the National Enquirer when she heard a “boom!”
“I happened to look up and there it came,” she said. “Oh my God, the building collapsed. There was a fog and you couldn’t see across the street.”
The dust settled in minutes, and Ambrosino was scared because she thought that many people were inside the building when it fell.
“When you see something coming down, all you think is: fatality,” she said.
The building that collapsed was to the right of a building under renovation and to the left of a construction site with a deep excavation hole.The building was more than 100 years old and has been in owner Lucille Milo Maundrell’s family for more than 60 years. Now all that remains are two windows and several feet of the front façade.
Jeff Wilser, 33, was working from home down the block on Conselyea Street when he heard a loud boom and saw smoke rise from the building site.
“I went out here and a few of us saw that there was someone trapped under the rubble,” Wilser said. “The one guy was semi-vertical and literally up to his neck in brick. So we started moving debris and scraping off bricks.”
Wilser worked diligently, brick by brick, to free the man until firefighters arrived and took over the rescue. He watched for the next 20 minutes as firefighters freed the trapped man and carried him on a stretcher to an ambulance. According to officials, the cause of the collapse is still under investigation.