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Rego Park lot cave-in follows remedial work

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The pavement that formed the ceiling of an underground parking garage in a Rego Park apartment building caved in Sunday night, injuring a valet parking attendant who was buried inside a car and crushing about 20 other automobiles.

About 150 firefighters rushed to the garage at the Park City Estates apartment complex at 61-55 98th St. in Rego Park after the collapse at around 9:30 p.m. Sunday, said a fire official.

A valet parking attendant, whose name was not released, was removed from the inside of a crushed car within 15 minutes of the cave-in, the fire official said. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he was in stable condition on Monday morning.

No other people were trapped in the garage by the debris, said authorities.

A woman in the management office of Park City Estates said the property managers had no comment.

"I thought an elevator had crashed down the shaft or a boiler had exploded," said Alan Tompas, who was in his apartment on the second floor of the co-op when the ground collapsed. "I saw the floor come up and the ceiling start to vibrate. Right away I thought - Oh, no. 9/11."

Tompas stayed up late watching the scene from the open-air second floor hallway overlooking the plaza with a rotunda where firefighters worked to clear debris and shore up the garage.

Ilyse Fink, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Buildings, said the collapse had probably occurred because remedial work was being done on the roof of the garage at the same time that excavation was being done in the plaza above the garage in order to waterproof the ground before laying on dirt for landscaping.

"The contractor was engaged in removing approximately two feet of earth at the plaza area in order to waterproof the underlying ground," said Fink. "When the earth was removed, they moved it all over to one area. Earth was piled to a height of over six feet over an area of approximately 2,500 square feet."

The result was the collapse of a 75-by-75 foot section of the garage ceiling, said Fink.

"If you have a shopping bag and you put too much stuff in it and it's too heavy, the bag breaks," Fink said. "This is not too different. What apparently happened is they just overloaded that area."

The entire 150,000-square-foot garage that holds about 500 cars has been shut down and will remain closed until Department of Buildings officials deem that it is safe to be reopened. Initially, only parts of the garage will probably reopen, said Fink.

The building's management has been issued violations for not having a proper work permit and for failure to safeguard the public, said Fink. A court date was set for May 27.

"It felt like an earthquake. I heard the car alarms, and I saw all the guys working on (the garage), so I'm not surprised (about the collapse)," said Linda, a second-floor resident who did not give her last name. "My car's in there. Thank god only one guy was in there."

She added, "I did so much shopping and it's all in there and I can't get into my car."

Linda said the section of the garage that had caved in had been converted from self-parking to valet parking after construction began. The area of the garage where she parked her car was not physically affected by the collapse.

"I'll just have to rely on friends and public transportation," she said. "I'm just glad that not a lot of people were hurt."

Buildings officials and engineers were investigating the collapse, said Fink.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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