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Photograph from East 51st Street by gattogrosso212 at flickr

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Image from NY1

2008_03_502nd.jpgA huge crane toppled off of a high-rise building under construction around 2:15 p.m. this afternoon and crashed into another skyscraper. According to initial reports, the incident occurred near 2nd Ave. as the crane fell backward from 51st St. into another building at 305 East 50th St. in Manhattan. NY1 spoke to residents who could see the incident from their 80th floor apartment on East 48th Street; they said the crane hit at least two building.

Two people are declared dead, with another likely to die. A total of eight civilians have been reported missing in the disaster, which has reached a 4-alarm level.

According to NY1, the crane crushed a building that housed the ironically named FUBAR, which was closed at the time, but other people may have been inside residential units in the building.

One tipster who was dining across the street, left the restaurant when debris fell into the establishment's patio. He said he saw a "huge plume of dust and debris" that blocked visibility in the street.

Part of the crane is said to have leveled a building that housed the bar "Fubar" on its first floor. Luckily, the bar was closed at the time, but the other floors may be inhabited.

Reader John sent us the image at right, of East 50th Street. He said one person was inside Fubar. From the images on NY1, it looks like the building was leveled.

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Image from WABC 7

It's unclear whether the crane was in use or if it just fell.

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Photo by Robert White at WNBC.com

There are reports of gas odor and Con Ed is moving to shut utilities.

UPDATE 4:01 p.m.: We're hearing that a total of four people are dead and two more are likely to die. There are many injuries.

It appears the crane was on the north side of East 51st Street, it fell south, hitting a building on the south side of East 51st and seems to have broken, with another piece falling onto the building on the north side of East 50th.

A devastated-sounding NY1 viewer who lives in the area described the building as falling "like a house of cards."

The address of the construction site where the crane was situated has not been confirmed, but it looks like it's a planned 40+ story building at 303 East 51st Street. While there are no Department of Buildings complaints for 303 East 51st Street or 307 East 51st Street, for 305 East 51st Street, there are many complaints, including this one from January 15, 2008:
"CLR STS SITE UNSAFE CLR STS THAT CRANE SWIGING ABOUT 20 FEET AWAY FROM WINDOW CLR STS THAT CRANE CAN BEEN CLOSE SHE WOULD LIKE INSPECT TO HAVE THEM CLOSE"

Again, the address has not been confirmed - if anyone knows the address, please let us know.

Many people are remarking about how the neighborhood was filled with people celebrating St. Patrick's Day early - and this stretch of 2nd Avenue has many bars.

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Image, via Google Maps, of what Fubar and East 50th Street looked like before

UPDATE 4:37 p.m.: Reader John, who is on the scene, tells us, "Apparently they were trying up raise the crane and it fell over. Two of the dead were the operators."

Second Avenue between 49th and 57th Streets is closed. The emergency crews are searching in the rubble for victims.

2008_03_crane5.jpgUPDATE 5:01 p.m.: WCBS 2 described the incident:

The crane split into pieces as it fell. Part of it came to rest against an apartment tower, buckling its facade and smashing it upper floors. That building and others in the area were evacuated. Another piece of the crane hit other buildings on the block, ripping away walls and ceilings and crushing a small building.

The crane was at 303 East 51st Street; it completely destroyed 305 East 50st Street and partially collapsed 301 East 50st Street. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said, “This is an absolute disgrace. We need better inspection and more resources.”

Fox 5 Metro Traffic reporter Lisa Chase lives in the area and railed against the poor construction at the site. She said orange fencing on the floors wasn't put on, that work had been done Saturdays and at all hours and that the workers were "being worked to death." She added a neighbor told her he didn't even walk in front of the site because it made him nervous.

Mayor Bloomberg is on the scene and is expected to speak, as if Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

UPDATE 5:17 p.m.: Assemblyman Jonathan Bing who represents the area told NY1 that he met with the construction site manager 8 days ago to discuss his community concerns about the building. He said that he had also spoken to the Department of Buildings about the site a few weeks ago and was still waiting from the DOB about plans. Bing says the complaint process at the DOB needs to be examined.

UPDATE 5:42 p.m.: The owner of FuBar, John PlaGreco, said he thought one of his employees was in the building at the time, "Our bar is done. The crane crashed the whole building. If I wasn't watching a Yankees game, I would've come to work early and gotten killed."

And the AP spoke to the construction management company's owner, Stephen Kaplan, who said that the crane was being extended today so workers could start on a new floor (19 of 44 stories have been completed) but some steel "fell and sheared off one of the ties holding it to the building." Kaplan said, "It was an absolute freak accident. All the piece of steel had to do was fall slightly left or right, and nothing would have happened." He also said that Reliance had subcontracted the construction to different contractors and that Reliance wasn't in charge of the crane.

The press conference from city officials has not begun yet.

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Photograph above of construction workers at 303 East 51st Street standing on a elevator and photograph below of firefighters searching on the rubble at 305 East 50th Street by Jason DeCrow/AP

UPDATE 6:02 p.m.: Mayor Bloomberg, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Buildings Department Deputy Commissioner Bob LiMandri, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, City Council member Jessica Lappin, and NY State Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Michael Balboni (Bloomberg said he spoke to soon-to-be Governor David Paterson about the incident) are present.

Bloomberg says the crane, which was at 303 East 51st Street destroyed 3 buildings and completely destroyed a 4th building, did break in two pieces - the bottom part falling from the north side of East 51st Street to the south side of the street, hitting 300 East 51st. The top part of the crane broke off and continued to fall, onto the north side of East 50th Street, landing on top of 305 East 50th Street and also hit other buildings on East 50th. The four fatalities are believed to be construction workers. He added that 305 East 50th Street, the townhouse where Fubar was located, was another site of "carnage," but the FDNY got one person out of Fubar alive, unclear if there was a second person. Bloomberg called it "one of the worst construction accidents" in NYC history.

2008_03_crane7.jpgThe crane subcontractor did have an appropriate permit to raise the crane (it's called "jumping the crane") to another floor but strangely, the Department of Buildings actually visited the building earlier today to issue a stop work order for something unrelated - strong winds are expected for tomorrow. There were 13 violations at the site, which is considered "normal" for a building of this size.

A number of buildings have been evacuated or partially evacuated, including ones that were damaged by the crane and neighboring ones. The Red Cross has set up a shelter at the High School for Art and Design at 228 East 57th Street near 2nd Avenue. And they have a crane read y to remove the crane on top of 305 East 50th Street.

FDNY is the lead agency. Scoppetta said they are conducting a rescue operation. They will use thermal imaging cameras to look for survivors, as well as police dogs and listening devices, but it's a delicate operation because they don't want to cause further collapse. The rescue operation will continue all night for both survivors and fatalities. There are 300 firefighters from 65 units. Kelly says many streets are closed as they conduct the rescue effort.

LiMandri said the owner of the crane is New York crane; the crane was made by FavCo, an Australian company; and the crane was being operated by JCI.

Bloomberg said, "It is a sad day," with the city's hearts going out to the families of the fatalities and prayers for the injured to recover.

And NY1 reports that Lieutenant David Paterson is heading to the scene.

UPDATE 6:49 p.m.: Lieutenant Governor David Paterson said, "This tragic tragic incident occurs here in New York City. And while we never want there to be these types of tragedies in New York City, this is actually the best prepared place for it to happen. Though we lost four lives, there were herculean efforts to save three others...It's a horrible situation, very gory, there's blood in the street, but we are very very lucky to have the brave police and firefighters here, their tremendous...Our hearts go out to the families who will learn they have have lost a family member here today." Paterson said offered the resources of the state, but it seemed like the city had it under control.

He noted that the lower part of the crane is balanced on the building at the south side of East 51st Street and that it will be dangerous to remove it. Paterson also said three victims are in critical condition and searchers are looking for a woman - apparently one of the victims said she was further back into the building.