1937 - BUILDING COLLAPSE KILLS 19. OCCUPANTS OF THREE TENEMENTS DIE WHILE SLEEPING EARLY TODAY. TONS OF WATER, ROARING DOWN FROM OVERFLOW STORM SEWERS, RIPS BUILDINGS ASUNDER, CRUSHING RESIDENTS TO DEATH.
New York, Aug. 12. (AP) - At least 19 persons were crushed to death in their sleep early today, amid a smothering avalanche of bricks and debris, when three Staten Island tenement buildings collapsed during a violent rainstorm.
Tons of water, roaring down from an overflowing storm sewer about midnight, struck the ancient brick dwellings and ripped them asunder.
Rescue squads of police and firemen pulled at the tangled wreckage for additional victims.
Three persons were still missing. Four others, who escaped from the shattered structures, were taken to the Staten Island Hospital with serious injuries.
Patrolman JOSEPH McBREEN of Emergency Squad No. 10, the first rescuer on the scene, died a hero. He plunged into one of the buildings after the first collapsed. Searching squads found him later buried in the wreckage. In his arms with her arms curled tightly around his neck, was the body of 4-year-old VIRGINIA BUDNICK.
The disaster struck at the height of a thunder and electrical storm that swept the metropolitan area and Long Island, in which four other persons were killed by lightning or were drowned.
Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine, directing the rescue work, called the tragedy "the worst of its kind in years."
The trapped victims were crushed and then buried beneath wreckage in a 30-foot cellar filled with muddy water. Most of them apparently never knew what struck them, being killed outright.
Staten Island, the scene of the disaster, lies five miles from the battery, the lower tip of Manhattan in lower New York Harbor.
The three buildings, erected nearly half a century ago, were hit by a foaming torrent rushing down a steep hillside from a storm sewer. They were leveled as if struck by a tornado or an explosion. Not a board stood intact.
Neighbors said the houses collapsed without warning. One minute there was only the steady din of rain pouring from black skies. Then came a terrific roar as the first two structures crashed.
Thousands of residents rushed to the scene, creating such chaos that police fought to hold them back. Two priests administered last rites to victims brought from the death-trap still breathing.
Two of the victims, MR. and MRS. JOSEPH CORAL, of Staten Island, were visiting friends in one of the buildings, waiting for the rain to let up so they could go home, when the structure went down with a roar.
Six of the dead were women, six were children, the others men.
The revised death list follows:
MRS. VIRGINIA BUDNICK, 28, her son, THOMAS, 2, and two daughters, HELEN, 6, and VIRGINIA, 4.
FRANCIS CARSTEN, 16.
LOUIS CORAL, 28.
PETER FERNANDEZ, 37.
MARY HURLEY, 28.
PATRICIA HURLEY, 2.
ADAM MALICKI, 26, and BESSIE MALICKI, 20, his bride of a month.
MARY PETERS, 44, and her daughter, LOUISE, 6.
TONY PIZYPELSKI, 22.
JOHN STOKES, 72.
Patrolman JOSEPH J. McBREEN.
MARIE SILVA, 25.
MARY LOUISE, 40.
MELVIN L. DECKER, 35.
The bodies were taken to the tiny Seaview morgue as the rescuers sought possible further victims.
Patrolman McBREEN, in his heroic rescue attempt, had mounted a ladder and had taken the child, VIRGINIA BUDNICK, into his arms when there was a terrifying roar. Boards splintered outward, as though smashed by some giant fist. The house buckled and fell in, engulfing McBREEN and the child in a swirl of bricks, debris and broken timbers.
A vivid eye-witness description of the police officer's gallant rescue attempt came from 10-year-old Gladys Peterson, who lost her mother, MARY, and her sister, LOUISE, in the disaster.
"I saw the policeman on the ladder, and then I saw him fall and everything fell on top of him. The little girl was in his arms. I covered my eyes. I couldn't scream. I was too terrified. Then I looked again. The house was gone. There was just bricks and things all piled up on top."
The first contingent of firemen had no sooner arrived, after the collapse of the first structure, than the second building lunged forward with a grinding road and swept more victims to their death - either by being crushed, suffocated or drowned in the deep waters of the cellar.
It sheared off from the adjacent building as though cut by a knife.
The flimsy frame structures, linked to a third 2-story building, had been rented at one time as a factory and then converted into a 6-family tenement.
Rescue work was halted briefly when the third segment suddenly collapsed early this morning, adding more debris to be cleared away. Police previously had ordered all tenants from the building.
The tenement, about 50 years old, stood on a steep hillside in the New Brighton community on Staten Island. Firemen said torrents of water rushing down the slope battered and weakened the buildings' foundation. Hundreds of other Staten Island homes were flooded by the rain in one of the heaviest storms in recent months. Water stood seven feet deep in many basements.
Commissioner Valentine directed 250 firemen and policemen in rescue work. Ambulances were sent from nearby hospitals, but only a few of the bodies lifted from the dripping wreckage were within reach of medical treatment.
Firelines were stretched to keep back thousands of residents attracted to the rescue. Flashlights cast weird shadows as tight-lipped rescuers dug feverishly at the ruins with pick axes. Except for the wall of relatives, kept back by police, the crowd greeted in dead silence the appearance of each crushed body. Trapped with no chance of escape, most of the victims apparently had been killed instantly.
District Attorney Frank Innes and Harry Langworthy, county superintendent of buildings, went to the scene to investigate.
August 12, 1937
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