ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - The top five stories of a parking garage under construction at a casino collapsed Thursday, sending concrete slabs and metal beams crashing down as workers ran for cover. Four people were killed, about 20 were injured and one was missing, officials said.
Three of the victims were found dead inside the building and the other died at a hospital, said Michael Shurman, deputy director of emergency management for Atlantic County.
One of the bodies was still inside the parking garage nearly six hours after the collapse, Shurman said. Authorities, worried about the structure's stability, didn't send rescue crews in right away.
"There is the real potential for a secondary collapse," Gov. James E. McGreevey said.
Robert Levy, the city's director of emergency management, called it "one of the worst collapses Atlantic City has ever seen." Search cameras and dogs were sent into the rubble of the 10-story garage to try to locate missing workers, and trucks carrying lumber were being brought in to try to shore up the building.
Workers had been pouring a concrete floor deck when a corner of the top floors collapsed, leaving five layers of concrete and steel sloping downward at a steep angle, said state police Capt. Ed O'Neill.
Harold Simmons, 42, a pipefitter was on the second floor of the garage when he heard the rumbling start around 10:40 a.m.
"It sounded like an earthquake," Simmons said. "The whole building was shaking.
"You didn't know where to run. I tried to run to a staircase, but the staircase was wiped out. I went to another staircase and that one was wiped out."
Simmons eventually escaped by following other workers. He said 300 to 400 workers were at the site when the garage floors collapsed.
The parking garage supports one side an 18-story hotel tower also under construction as part of an expansion project for the Tropicana Casino and Resort.
"It's a tragedy. We're devastated," said Maureen Siman, a Tropicana spokeswoman.
Bill Crilley, 42, an insulator, working at a project in another part of the city, said he rushed to the building after hearing the collapse and saw authorities carrying one body away.
"It's ugly. Horrific. The whole stairwell is crushed," he said.
Ten people were taken to a trauma unit at Atlantic City Medical Center, and six others were being treated at the hospital for other injuries. Four others were taken to Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point with injuries that didn't appear life threatening, said hospital spokesman Bill Elliott.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was leading the investigation.
At the site, construction workers gathered on the street nearby to gaze up at the collapsed floors. Family members began arriving at the scene looking for relatives.
"He was working up there last night, I know," said one distraught woman as she searched for co-workers of her husband.
The Tropicana expansion project is intended to diversify the casino's offerings with forms of entertainment other than gambling, including an IMAX theater, nightclub and restaurants. It had been scheduled for completion next spring.