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NY Times

Wall Collapses Onto a Busy Manhattan Highway

A retaining wall in upper Manhattan collapsed, closing the parkway in both directions.

Published: May 13, 2005

A 75-foot-high stone retaining wall built in 1908 collapsed in a roaring avalanche onto the Henry Hudson Parkway in Upper Manhattan yesterday afternoon. No one was believed killed or hurt, but parked cars were buried and traffic in the region was thrown into bedlam for the evening rush.

The retaining wall, an ominously vertical landmark to drivers passing under its bulk just north of the George Washington Bridge at 183rd Street in Washington Heights, shuddered and rumbled and fell in two stages that terrified nearby residents and drivers who saw landslides falling on the road ahead.

The first, just before 3 p.m., was smaller and covered the parkway's Riverside Drive access road with rocky debris. The second, 5 to 10 minutes later, was a thunderous slide that buried the parkway's northbound lanes in a 150-foot-wide horseshoe-shaped mountain of boulders, soil and trees.

It was unclear how long it might take to clear the debris and reopen the parkway and access roads. Earth-moving equipment was brought in, but officials said the northbound lanes of the parkway would be impassable through the weekend and perhaps longer.

Carlos Pellecier, 45, a doorman at 1380 Riverside Drive, just south and to the side of the collapse, heard the ominous rumbles and felt the earth move. Firefighters arrived and one suggested that they all move back from the edge. Then it happened.

"It just went boom," Mr. Pellecier recalled. "It was seconds, and everything just came down - trees, benches, everything. You saw a tree coming down, flying through the air. We're running and you could see the cars get smashed."

Three hours later, a fire on a railroad bridge in Kearny, N.J., shut down Amtrak and New Jersey Transit rail service between New York and Newark. It was unclear whether trains would be running in time for today's morning rush, railroad officials said. (Related Article)

In the slope of the landslide's debris, firefighters using thermal imaging devices detected no signs of heat, indicating that no people or cars whose engines had been running had been caught in the collapse. There were no reports of anyone missing and some witnesses said no cars had been passing when the wall fell, though a police officer said one car on the parkway was hit by debris but drove away.

Two firefighters of Ladder Company 45 who responded to a call about the first collapse were standing at the base of the wall just before the second collapse.

"I was looking at the top of the wall and it was shaking," Firefighter Brian Masterson said.

"We were checking to see if anybody was in any of the cars, when we heard a rumbling," Firefighter Joe Byrne added. "We were, like, let's go."

About 250 residents of 1380 Riverside Drive were evacuated after cracks were found in the facade, but officials said the building was safe and all residents but those in north-facing apartments were allowed to return shortly before midnight. A spokesman for the Office of Emergency Management said the Red Cross provided shelter for four families.

Hundreds of residents of Castle Village, a five-building cooperative atop the cliff, were not evacuated, and officials said that those buildings, some only 50 feet from the collapse, were being examined but did not seem in danger.

For years, according to city officials, residents and engineering reports, the wall has been a collapse waiting to happen. Built nearly a century ago by a real estate developer, Charles V. Paterno, to create seven acres of level ground above the Hudson for his four-story castle, the wall in the 1980's underwent extensive repairs, but in recent years became a shifting, leaking mass in need of reinforcement.

Chunks fell occasionally, leaving holes as big as a car. Water channels built into the wall to relieve pressure and channels cut by seepage, leaked often. Other repairs had been done in recent months, Sarah Morgridge, an aide to City Councilman Robert Jackson, a Manhattan Democrat, told The Associated Press. And recently, Castle Village, which owns the wall, hired an engineer to evaluate its structural integrity.

The news was bad, residents and board members said. As a result, Langan Engineering, which had been brought in to work on the problem, asked the city's Department of Transportation for permits to close parts of the parkway to perform repairs. A meeting to discuss the permits was scheduled for today, and the work was to begin on Monday, city officials said.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other city officials said last night that the parts of the 1,000-foot-long wall that were still standing appeared to be sound, and that local residents and their buildings and drivers in the southbound parkway lanes were not in danger.

"It could have been a catastrophe, and it was not," Mr. Bloomberg, who surveyed the scene in a helicopter, said at a sunset news conference at the site. He noted that the collapse occurred before the heavy traffic of the evening rush, and that no gas, water or electrical lines were affected. "I think we are very lucky," he added.

Commissioner Iris Weinshall of the Department of Transportation said that an investigation would be needed to determine the cause of the collapse. But she and other officials said water seeping through the porous wall could have been a factor.

The collapse halted northbound traffic on the parkway - the main artery for commuters to New Jersey, Westchester County, Connecticut and points north and west - and spillbacks rippled outward over the West Side, across the Bronx expressways and Manhattan's labyrinth of avenues, highways, tunnels and bridges.

By late afternoon, outbound delays in the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels under the Hudson River ran an hour or more. But because the collapse occurred several blocks north of the George Washington Bridge, New Jersey-bound commuters, though delayed extensively, were able to reach and cross the bridge. Southbound parkway traffic, shut off for several hours, also resumed last night.

Fire trucks, police cars and other emergency equipment were also caught in the tangled traffic, delaying hundreds of firefighters and police officers who were summoned from across the city in what the emergency management agency called a Level 3 mobilization, one below a citywide catastrophe. By 1:15 a.m., half of the debris from the parkway was cleared, although the access road remained buried.

For many who saw views of the fallen wall on television, thoughts of terrorism leapt to mind, as they do whenever any major disruption occurs in New York. But city officials quickly indicated that terrorism had nothing to do with what happened.

"It's been leaning for years," said David Muhlfelder, 50, a writer whose apartment overlooks the collapse. "I heard a big rumble. then I heard a second one a few minutes later. That really spooked me." The collapse just missed a pedestrian bridge.

As helicopter cameras caught the sweep of the slide in the late afternoon, Channel 2, WCBS-TV, showed pictures of a huge bulge in the wall, taken recently.

The television pictures also showed a shiny red car, its hood tucked into the southern edge of the debris. It was unoccupied and, aside from being half buried, appeared to be unscathed. It belonged to Ralph Frazier, 87, of Springfield Gardens, Queens, who said his daughter, of 1380 Riverside Drive, had parked it under the wall.

"I have it insured and my payments are paid up," Mr. Frazier said. "So far so good. She didn't get hurt."

A New York Police Department detective surveyed the scene on the Henry Hudson Parkway on Thursday after the collapse of a retaining wall caused a landslide, blocking the highway.

metrocard millionaire
1,257 Posts
man its real effed up...I wish I had a digital camera right now....I was on the harlem river drive today..and the northbound section was packed...same w/ the deegan and this was at like 12 in the afternoon

yesterday there was also a fire on that bridge in kearny that I think most of all the routes going into newark penn have to the seacaucs junction
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