When Joshua Alvarado drops his son off at Public School 16 in the mornings, he often notices busy construction activity at the brick row houses on Wilson Street, across from the school. But he’s never expecting what happened this morning. At 9:15 a.m. firefighters rushed to the scene of a construction disaster at 146 Wilson Street on Williamsburg’s south side. After an illegal excavation project went wrong, the basement-level collapsed, injuring three construction workers.
The FDNY told B+B that three patients were taken to the hospital with “non-life-threatening injuries,” and that the department is still waiting on more information about what transpired. On site, two construction workers were buried in the soil and had to be dug out, while a third was injured in the collapse.
Alvarado, who works at Benjamin Moore around the corner, came out of the shop when he heard the commotion. “I saw a bunch of ambulances and the fire department, a guy getting pulled into the ambulance, earlier this morning,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what was going on. This is the first time that it’s happened on this block.”
The building, a three-story multi-family walk-up in the Orthodox Jewish section of Williamsburg, was built in 1905 and is listed as owned by A & L Family Trust. According to DOB records, the building owners did not have any construction permits on file with the department, whose approval is is required before construction can proceed. In the absence of permits, the excavation in the rear basement, which led to the cave in, was an illegal one. The Department of Buildings released a statement to B+B indicating that they are working to identify both the owner and the contractor that was providing the illegal work.
The collapse compromised the structural stability of the adjacent buildings: a synagogue and a three-unit residential building. The evacuated neighbors waited in the front yard while HPD-contractors worked to backfill the property and shore up the stability of all three buildings.
The accident comes with the recent publication of an investigative report in The New York Times which found that the city’s red hot real estate market and subsequent “building boom” have led to a rise in unsafe working conditions for construction workers. Undocumented immigrants who often take these kinds of under-the-table jobs are especially at risk.
“This morning’s cave-in is a stark reminder of the dangers of working without permits or proper safeguards,” a spokesman for the Department of Buildings wrote in an email. “The Department is investigating this illegal construction project and we will do everything in our power to identify and hold accountable those responsible for endangering public safety.”