By Greg Roumeliotis
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City evacuated neighbors of a nearly completed, 90-story luxury apartment building on Monday after the top of a construction crane collapsed in high winds, prompting fears the crane's boom could crash to the ground.
With the city bracing for massive storm Sandy, which made landfall in southern New Jersey later on Monday, the crane's upper arm dangled over the street near Central Park from what should eventually become the city's tallest residential building, where condominium units will start at $16.75 million.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the crane had been inspected on Friday, as other construction cranes had ahead of the storm, and that the cause of the accident remained unknown. Engineers went to the top of the building to examine the crane but stopped short of attempting any repairs, officials said.
"It's conceivable that nobody did anything wrong whatsoever and it wasn't even a malfunction, it was just a strange gust of wind," Bloomberg told a news conference.
"Just because it was inspected, that doesn't mean that God doesn't do things or that metal doesn't fail. There's no reason to think at this point in time that the inspection wasn't adequate," he said.
Firefighters closed streets for several blocks surrounding the site, evacuated 300 apartments in three buildings and were preparing to evacuate more, a Fire Department spokesman said.
Passers-by stared in amazement and apprehension, while some stopped to take pictures of the building that will feature $90 million duplexes.
"It's fascinating, I saw it on TV and came out to see it. But it's also scary. If it happened there, who knows where else it could happen," said Sam O' Keeffe, 25, a bartender who lives in the neighborhood.
The building, known as One57 and designed by Christian de Portzamparc, has been climbing ever higher and, at 1,004 feet, it will tower over other buildings near Columbus Circle at the southwest corner of Central Park.
Ninety-two luxury condominiums will sit atop a five-star Park Hyatt hotel.
Two of those units were under contract for more than $90 million each, The New York Times reported last month, citing the president of building developer, Extell Development Company.
Extell, which did not respond to requests for comment on Monday, announced in May it had reached $1 billion in sales and that half of its units had sold in six months. Occupancy was set for 2013.
The contractor was Australia's Lend Lease Construction and Canada's Pinnacle Industries own the crane, said Mary Costello, a spokeswoman for Lend Lease.
"We are working with structural engineers and the DOB (Department of Buildings) on evaluating any additional measures that can be taken to secure the boom and crane structure," Costello said.
In April, a 30-year-old laborer died at a subway construction site after the boom of a subway crane came off and crashed down. Yonkers Contracting Co. Inc. was cited with 10 serious violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a result.
That same month, a Manhattan state judge acquitted a construction company owner of manslaughter for a crane collapse that killed two workers in May 2008 and raised concerns about high-level building projects in New York.
In that case, a nearly 200-foot-tall crane snapped in half and crashed onto a building on the Upper East Side. In March 2008, a giant crane fell and crushed a residential building in Manhattan, killing seven people.
(Additional reporting by Martinne Geller, Luiciana Lopez and Ilaina Jonas; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Philip Barbara and Paul Tait)