Two workers prepping for asbestos removal were injured, while more than a dozen were able to escape unharmed, after a ceiling collapsed at a shuttered Nassau County government office building in Garden City Friday, police said.
The workers, ages 46 and 22, were trapped in the fallen debris and "removed by police department personnel," Nassau County police spokesman Insp. Kenneth Lack said.
Lack said their injuries were not considered life-threatening. Both were said to be conscious and alert. Seventeen other workers in the building at the time escaped injury, police said.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to the injured workers and their families," Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement.
Tony Ciuffo, area director for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Long Island office, said the agency had opened an investigation into the incident at 101 County Seat Dr., site of the old Department of Social Services headquarters.
"We do have standards relating to demolition, asbestos removal and construction," Ciuffo said.
The agency has jurisdiction over accidents involving both federal and private employees, and has the power to fine companies for safety issues and other violations.
Lack said an environmental cleaning company, PAL Environmental Services of Queens, had been prepping the building for asbestos removal as part of a renovation. The building, which has not been officially occupied for years, is being converted into a Family Court.
It was during those preparations, about 10 a.m., when a portion of a ceiling collapsed.
Lack said the two injured workers were decontaminated because asbestos landed on them.
The 17 other workers also were to be decontaminated at the scene, Lack said.
Responders included members of the Nassau police Emergency Services Unit, Garden City police, Nassau fire marshals and volunteers from five local fire departments -- Garden City, Garden City Park, Mineola, Carle Place and Westbury. Several ambulance crews also responded.
The employee of a neighborhood deli said he was outside smoking a cigarette when he heard "what sounded like a crash."
Christopher Higgins told Newsday: "Next thing you know there's dust coming up around the building. I knew something had come down or fallen inside."
Higgins said he briefly talked to responders, who told him at least one worker was trapped. "We're saying a prayer," he said.
Last December, the Nassau County Legislature approved a $72 million resolution to begin renovation of the old Department of Social Services building, where the Family Court is to be relocated from Westbury.
At Mangano's swearing-in in January, the county executive heralded the renovation of the shuttered Social Services building as among the "challenges and opportunities" of the next four years.
In an email, PAL Environmental Services vice president Aric Domozick said: "It's really an unfortunate incident that happened, but I can't comment any further because we're undergoing an assessment of what happened."
With Paul LaRocco
and John Valenti