Rescuers Trying to Reach Victim in N.J. Garage Collapse

Emergency officials bringing in dogs to sift through debris; two potential victims in rubble

By Pat Battle, Brian Thompson and Jennifer Millman
|  Saturday, Jul 17, 2010  |  Updated 9:29 AM EDT
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Search-and-rescue teams raced to an apartment building in <a title=New Jersey this morning in hopes of finding two potential victims who may have been trapped after a large parking garage collapsed." />

Search-and-rescue teams raced to an apartment building in New Jersey this morning in hopes of finding two potential victims who may have been trapped after a large parking garage collapsed.

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Search-and-rescue teams are still trying to reach a person trapped after a large parking garage collapsed in New Jersey Friday morning. It's not clear at this time whether the victim is a survivor, nor whether others may still be trapped in the building.

A car was pulled from the debris last night, The Associated Press reported. There is no word on whether anyone was inside the vehicle. Police who were on hand declined to commen.

Hackensack fire Lt. Stephen Lindner said that the rescuers are making good progress. "We still consider this a rescue mission," he said.

Lindner had said earlier that the emergency workers can see the victim but can't get to the person because they are concerned about the possibility of another collapse. They could not determine the victim's condition.

He also said authorities are checking out reports that two to three more people might also be trapped.

The AP also reported that the authorities were also checking to see if a second person might be also trapped. Surveillance cameras caught another car on an exit ramp two levels below, but rescuers cannot determine if a person was inside.

Fire and emergency officials responded en masse after reports of the collapse at Prospect Towers, an apartment building in Hackensack, came in just after 10 a.m.

The overhang on top of the garage that services the high-rise condo tower collapsed, which in turn caused the entire three-story garage to crumble, according to the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management. 

Although officials say there are "two potential victims" trapped in the rubble, officials can't make any determination on that because structural engineers haven't been able to get inside the garage to determine if it's stable. It doesn't appear anyone on the ground has been injured. Rescuers are bringing in dogs to sift through the debris and officials evacuated the building as a precaution.

Chris Baldo, a tenant on the first floor in the building said he was about to head out when he heard a rumbling that he described as feeling like an earathquake.

Baldo looked out the window and told NBCNewYork he watched the front of the building crumble away in front of him -- a three-story parking garage pancaked down to what he believes is 25 feet below ground.

Dennis Parham, who lives in the eighth floor said he also heard rumbling, which he described as a "frightening noise" he'll "never forget," while sitting at his computer. At first Parham thought it was a plane from nearby Teterboro Airport, but then the building shook. He grabbed his camera, ran outside and said he couldn't believe his eyes when he saw what had happened.

The canopy over the front entrance, the driveway and even trees disappeared into what Baldo describes as a massive sinkhole. Chopper video captured some serious damage in the area. Parham said the cars looked like they had been swallowed up.

Residents told NBCNewYork they heard some creaking or squeaking over the last few days, but had no reason to believe it was anything more significant than regular apartment noises.

The building holds about 300 units, but fortunately, most people had left for work by the time the garage collapsed.

For Parham, the concern was less material -- even though he just bought a new car -- and more about the people who could've been trapped in the rubble.

"We can replace the material things that we have but we can't replace life," he said. "I'm very concerned about the people I know in the building. I've seen most of them, but not all of them. I don't even know of the psychological impact that's going to happen to the seniors that live here."

Second-floor resident Damian Kazazian felt he escaped with his life, and that of his 19-month-old daughter Gabriela as well.

"I tell you, displaced, your whole world is upside down," Kazazian told NBCNewYork. "I run my businesss from my house."

Art Samaras of the Red Cross says the management company has assured him it will offer financial assistance to anyone with no place to go.  "No one will be left unsheltered tonight," he said.

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