After Days Of Wait, Demolition Begins

ATLANTIC CITY – An ironworker climbed out of a crane basket at 2 p.m. Monday and onto a 100-foot-tall wall towering above the pit created last week when five floors of the Tropicana Casino and Resort’s new parking garage collapsed.

Then, as he dangled 10 stories above the city, with hundreds of spectators watching from the street, the man and his crew began an unenviable task dismantling part of a structure built with the sweat and blood of their union brothers.

Four construction workers died In Thursday’s collapse, and 11 still are hospitalized, two in critical condition.

But even as signs of the destruction slowly began to disappear Monday, there still were slower, more excruciating matters ahead as federal officials continued the long process of interviewing witnesses and the family and friends of the deceased tried to make sense of a question no one has answered: Why did this happen?

Paul Roskoski, lead regional investigator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Monday that the agency still is waiting to get building plans for the structure while supervising the removal of the debris walls.

Investigators also are checking the cure rate – the rate at which concrete dries- of the concrete that had hardened in the 10-story structure, Roskosld said.

Workers were pouring the concrete deck of the top story when the structure gave way. “We hope to find the causa1 factors, and if we find that there were safety infractions, we will issue citations that typically have penalties,” Roskoski said.

It’s unclear whether the entire 2,400-space garage and an adjoining new hotel tower, both part of a $245 million casino expansion that was to open in March, also will face the wrecking ball, resort Emergency Management Chief Bob Levy said Monday. Both of the structures share the same foundation.

Levy said that each slab that is taken from the debris walls would be moved to a secure location as part of the federa1 investigation.

Project contractor Keating Building Corp. had no comment on Monday’s activities, a spokesman there said.

Workers spent most of Monday morning working out a safe strategy for cabling and cutting the 100-foot tall wall, Police Capt. John Mooney said.

The plan for the rest of the day was for workers to drill holes in the main walls and other slender debris columns and thread cables through them before cutting the debris into pieces and lowering it to the ground. The strategy replaced a failed attempt Friday to chip away at the debris from the air.

The first big slab came off the main debris wall at 2:30 p.m. Monday, causing a stir on the street as spectators who waited hours for action perked up and were even more amazed seconds later when a motorist who was driving by slammed into the rear of another car as he stared up at the sky.

“Those rubberneckers will get you all the time,” said a police officer assigned to the command post, where some people staked out public benches and others stood for hours watching the demolition.

By 9 p.m. Monday, me operation was inching along. But officials the debris, once thought to pose a danger, was no longer a factor.

“I’ve been assured by the engineers they could take a 40 or 50 mile an hour wind,” Levy, the emergency management chief, said of the debris columns.

The demolition is expected to continue today, when the family of victim Scott Pietrosante, a 21-year-old cement finisher from Milmay, will say goodbye to him in a 10:30 a.m. service at the Church of Our Lady of Pompeii in Vineland.

A few hours later, the loved ones of victim Jimmy Bigelow Sr., a 29-year-old ironworker from Egg Harbor Township, will remember him at a 3 p.m. service at Adams-Perfect Funeral Home in Northfield.

Then, soon, with heavy hearts, some of their union brothers will head back to the collapse site. There is still work to be done and questions to be answered.

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