Crane topples into Dallas apartments, killing one

One person is dead and five others injured after a construction-site crane sliced into a Dallas apartment building during a storm Sunday afternoon, pulverizing numerous units and turning the parking garage into a heap of concrete and smashed vehicles, according to Dallas Fire-Rescue.

The crane collapsed around 2 p.m. Sunday amid strong storms in north Texas that brought winds of up to 70 mph. Video footage captured the crane slowly tilting in the air before toppling and smashing into the five-story Elan City Lights Apartments across the street from the construction site, coming to rest like a mangled sky bridge between the two structures.

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The blow "completely decimated" an untold number of units and caused all five floors of the parking garage to cave in, Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans told The Washington Post.

Rescue crews swept the building and found one woman dead inside an apartment, Evans said. She has not yet been identified. Two others were critically injured, two seriously injured and one person sustained minor injuries, Evans said.

The rest – hundreds of residents – were evacuated from the building.

"There’s no manual on this," one resident, David Mendoza, told NBC 5. "There’s no how-to on what to do when a crane collapses through your building."

Evans said it’s unclear what exactly caused the crane to collapse, but that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to assess the accident. The crane was located at a construction site for a new apartment building and grocery store. The crane’s operator, California-based Bigge Crane and Rigging Co., has not yet identified a suspected cause for the collapse but promised in a statement to provide updates as the investigation continues.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those directly impacted by this incident, their families and loved ones, and with those who suffered property damage," Randy Smith, Bigge Crane and Rigging’s corporate counsel, said in the statement.

The crane’s collapse was one of numerous scenes of destruction across Dallas during the gusty storm, the latest to wreak havoc in the south in recent weeks. The tempest snapped trees and knocked out power, and even toppled a billboard onto vehicles.

After the crane fell, residents who evacuated from the building described feeling like they were caught in an earthquake, emerging from their units to find scenes akin to "war clips that you see on the news," Mendoza said. "My walls started to shake a bit, I look out, and the entire courtyard had turned completely white and gray from debris," Mendoza told CBS 11.

Cars in the parking garage piled up on the ground floor as though they’d fallen through a sinkhole. Mendoza and a neighbor spotted one man trapped inside his car, its front end "facing straight down."

"Me and my neighbor were like, ‘We can’t leave him like that," Mendoza told CBS 11.

The man was able to climb through a back window, while Mendoza and his neighbor assisted him out of the vehicle, Mendoza said.

Kevin Collins, whose unit was directly adjacent to the crane’s destruction, told NBC 5 that his next-door neighbor was among those who sustained critical injuries. "He could not move. He could not stand," Collins said. "Two people had to grab him and take him out." As the crane crashed into the building, he said, his sister sustained a minor scrape on her leg.

"I’m highly grateful," he told the news station. "I could’ve been dead."

Residents were evacuated to hotel rooms as damage is assessed in the building, Evans said. While authorities are not concerned about the building’s overall structural integrity, Evans said management still made the decision to relocate residents over concerns about fire hazards and access to water.

Once authorities determined the building was structurally sound, police and fire personnel escorted residents back inside to retrieve their pets and personal belongings, Evans said. Some units were inaccessible, and in those cases, Evans said search-and-rescue dogs were sent inside to look for people who might be trapped. The dogs did not find anyone left behind, he said, and everyone was accounted for.

Evans said it was unusual, "given the destruction that crane caused," that residents would be able to return to the building. "It’s a really large property, and luckily a great portion-more than half of the building – looked perfectly fine, with the exception of where the crane hit," he said.

CBS 11 reported that Sunday’s fatality marked the ninth death involving a crane accident since 2012 in north Texas, although it is the first death in the region that didn’t involve a construction worker.

Because of the fatal accidents, OSHA renewed a crane-safety enforcement initiative in October in the southwest region, which includes Texas, aimed at increasing crane inspections and "reducing serious and fatal injuries to employees," a federal report said.

Bigge Crane has been targeted by OSHA for at least 17 violations since 2013, though the firm has contested some citations. The most high-profile incident, in 2013, involved a crane that collapsed at a nuclear power plant in Arkansas, killing a worker and injuring eight others. OSHA found that Bigge’s crane did not meet certain safety standards, contributing to the hazards that caused the collapse, although Bigge contested the findings. The company was fined $56,700, though the amount was later reduced in a settlement.

Smith, Bigge’s corporate counsel, did not immediately respond to a request for additional information regarding the latest collapse.

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