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Briarwood frets over fractures

Mysterious cracks suddenly appeared in at least 11 houses on a quiet street in Briarwood Friday, driving some residents from their homes and sparking suspicions that recent work on the sewage system in the area was the culprit.

Cracks ranged from hairline fractures in walls to gaps of about two inches in foundations in houses on 159th Street and on 84th Avenue. One house was even tilted.

Early Monday afternoon, a city Department of Design and Construction trailer was camped on 159th Street. Inspectors milled about and could be seen conferring in small groups in front of the damaged homes. Most of the houses affected by the cracks appeared to be on 159 Street.

Some residents believe the cracks were caused by city workers using heavy equipment on the sewage system in the area, which led to the rupture of a pipe. But there were no official explanations for the cracks as of presstime late Tuesday.

Mohammed Rana, a limousine driver who lives at 83-42 159th St., said there was a crack inside his house, but he had not been ordered to leave by authorities from the Department of Buildings.

Rana, who was checking the oil in his car, said he and other residents who had not been forced to evacuate their homes had to be present at certain times to make them accessible to inspectors.

"City engineers were in my home yesterday," Rana said Monday. "They said if the cracks get larger, I have to move, but there is no danger yet."

Rana said he first noticed cracks Friday and believed the problem was related to a water pipe breaking.

"This is a long time going on," he said, adding that police were called after a neighbor reported a crack in her house.

"She heard a crack and called police. Police came, the fire brigade, and Buildings Department," he said. "The next day everybody was sent out. Everybody was homeless."

Rana pointed to a house on 159th Street facing the end of 84th Avenue.

"You see that last home? It's leaning, leaning, but thank God it stopped leaning any more."

Yair G., a Queens College student who lives on 84th Avenue next to a house that was damaged and would only give the first letter of his last name, said, "No [city agency] wants to take responsibility." He said he often heard heavy machinery in the early morning hours near his house that shook the ground on several occasions.

Peter and Elvira Lascarides, who have lived at their 159-02 84th Ave. home for 45 years, pointed out fresh cracks in their walls and above a closet door. They also pointed to a crack behind their TV set.

"The only thing we know is that they did this heavy work last summer on our street," Elvira Lascarides said. "They used this heavy machinery and our whole house shook. It is frightening because the door is cracked and the wall is, too."

She also said that when the work was going on last summer, "our homes were shaking."

"They took two big stones and dropped them to the ground," Peter Lascarides said. "The pipes were broken, I think they came to fix that leak. But the house was shaking - that's why we are sure that the construction did this."

"What happened was, the sewer pipe broke," said Amita Ness, who lives at 159-20 84th Ave. "Sewage ran into the house across the street. They definitely had sewage in their basement."

Ness said she also saw a huge rock which she believed broke the pipe.

"All the neighbors know. We think [the work crew] dropped the boulder on a sewage pipe when they opened up the street to work on it."

Patches of recently applied asphalt were visible on the street in front of one house on 84th Avenue. Red bricks on the house's siding, which faces the avenue, had separated from each other.

The city Department of Environmental Protection reportedly was looking into the possibility the houses were built on an improperly filled pond bed.

Paul Wein, a spokesman for the city Department of Buildings, said his agency was working with other agencies and was "actively monitoring the situation."

The city Department of Design and Construction referred all questions to the city Department of Environmental Protection. DEP did not return calls by press time.

Jennifer Chait, a spokeswoman with the Department of City Planning, said the neighborhood is not near any municipal landfill, but she did not know whether there had been private dumping.

Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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