ATLANTIC CITY – It was 7 a.m. Friday when rescuers carried out the body of the last construction worker trapped in the rubble of the collapsed Tropicana parking garage, nearly a day after the disaster that left 20 injured and four dead.
With recovery efforts over, it was rime to move on. First, with a prayer. Then, with a plan.
“No words explain why bad things happen to good people,” Our Lady Star of the Sea pastor the Rev. Patrick Brady said in a prayer service at the site. “We must resolve at this sacred site to celebrate life.”
While many paused to join in prayer and the singing of God Bless America and Amazing Grace, authorities spent most of the day evaluating the sections of the garage’s walls that had been arcing skyward since separating from the five-story portion of the 12-story structure that had crashed down Thursday.
At sunrise, a 100-foot tall, 33-foot wide and 15-inch-deep section of wall still towered unsupported above the area, along with a few other more slender columns of debris.
But portions of what was left standing were moving. First three inches one way. Then three inches the other way, Deputy Fire Chief John Bereheiko said.
By 5 p.m., after consu1tations with Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, investigators, Keating Building Corp. engineers and other experts, police announced that demolition efforts wou1d begin a short time later and began evacuating nearby Brighton Towers condominiums for the night as huge cranes moved into the area for the demolition.
Some of the evacuees took the exodus in stride, hopping on buses that brought them to the Sheraton Convention Center Hotel, where Tropicana paid for the residents of more than 100 condo units to stay for the night.
It was upsetting at first. Now we’re considering it a mini-vacation,” Brighton Towers resident Anna Fitzgerald said. “If anything happens, you can’t take the chance.”
“It’s nice to get away from that site. It’s like a little mixer with our neighbors,” said her husband, Pat.
Other evacuees were still disturbed that such tragedy had struck so close to home, literally yards from some of their balconies and windows.
“I’m worried about what’s going to happen, worried about how it will affect Brighton Towers,” said resident Nazer Aziz, a 38-year-old cabbie. “I’m angry for what’s going on. It’s not supposed to happen. This is bad propaganda for the city.”
By 9 p.m., two cranes had moved into the area closest to the collapse to begin munching away at small parts of the l00·foot-tall wall, which authorities deemed the worst hazard. Gas and electric were shut down in a two-block area of Atlantic Avenue and emergency lights beamed power onto the scene.
The plan was to tear down the main wall, then take down the other columns, some of which were visibly leaning and cracked.
But the plan wasn’t without danger.
“This is still a very critical scene,” Police Capt. John Mooney said.
Air horns were to sound if any of the walls started crashing down, the signal, authorities told the media, to run. As long as winds stayed at 12 miles an how or less, officials anticipated no problems, and said the demolition, once started, would take about six hours. Demolition began after midnight.
Authorities did not offer new clues to why the garage. part of a $245 million casino expansion including hotel rooms and retail and convention space, came crashing down Thursday as hundreds of construction workers were inside.
OSHA’s lead regional investigator said Thursday that part of the investigation would include determining if the concrete was given enough time to dry.
Project contractor Keating Building Corp. took the offensive Friday, releasing a prepared. statement that blamed people with no expertise for “speculating wildly” about the disaster.
“At this point speculation only disrupts the information gathering process,” the statement continued, “It is a distraction to the work: being done and it’s disrespectful to the families of those involved.”
Some of the families of the (deceased came to the site Friday. staring up at the collapse while wiping away tears. “Scott, we love you,” read one of the notes victim Scott Pietrosante’s sister-in-law, Tanya Pietrosante. planned to place near the site along with candles to memorialize the 21-year-old Milmay man who perished in the collapse.
Beside Pietrosante, a cement finisher police identified the deceased as: James P. Bigelow, 29, an ironworker from Egg Harbor Township; Michael Wittland, 43, an ironworker from Pleasantville; and Robert Tanaglio Jr., 42, a cement finisher Tom Galloway Township.
Fourteen of those injured in the collapse still were hospitalized Friday at Atlantic City Medical Center. City Division. Three were critical.
Robert Haddock. president of Tropicana parent Aztar Corp., said during an afternoon conference call with Wall Street analysts that the company’ prayer’s would be with those who died and those who were injured.
Haddock said he doesn’t know what caused the collapse and it’s too early to talk about a revised timetable for finishing the casino expansion project.
Aztar Chairman and CEO Paul Rubelli denied suggestions that the disaster happened because the garage’s construction was rushed.
We will find out what went wrong, it will get fixed and we will get this expansion open,” he said.