Most residents of a Long Beach apartment building were allowed to return home Tuesday evening following the morning collapse of several terraces that left about a third of the renters looking for someplace to live, city officials said.
The 48-unit, three-story Sunlit Terrace Apartments on Shore Road between Long Beach and Monroe boulevards was evacuated after the collapse of at least five brick facade terraces at 7:37 a.m. Officials said residents were “very lucky” to escape unharmed.
Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman initially said about three dozen families were evacuated and assisted by Red Cross officials, who were working in a Long Beach city bus.
Tenants from 30 apartments were allowed to return home Tuesday evening, officials said. The remaining 18 tenants will not be allowed to return for several days, until work is completed. Their terraces, on the south side facing the ocean, were to be torn down before they could return home.
“We’re very lucky,” Long Beach Fire Chief Robert J. Tuccillo said Tuesday morning. “Thank God it happened early in the morning and nobody was outside . . . Everybody’s safe and everybody’s accounted for.”
The cause of the collapse was not immediately known.
Third-floor resident Patricia McNulty, 28, whose terrace was among those that collapsed, said she had been complaining to the building’s owner for about six weeks, saying the decks were in danger of collapsing.
McNulty said she texted him a photo of her terrace, reiterating her concerns, about an hour before the collapses occurred. “I knew this was going to happen,” she said, adding that she had warned her downstairs neighbor not to use her deck.
Newsday obtained the photo in the text sent by McNulty. It shows brickwork missing or damaged and large cracks in the concrete patio floor of her deck.
She said she moved there 14 months ago for the view and the balcony, but now the balcony is gone.
“He knew how dangerous this was,” she said. “I’m beyond angry. It could have been prevented, and people could have died.”
Landlord Carmine Tepedino, who has lived in the building and owned it for more than 50 years, denied residents had been complaining about the building for several months and said he first learned of it about two weeks ago.
“You can see from the scaffolding, we were working on it. We were fixing the balconies,” Tepedino said.
Tepedino said when he became aware of the situation, residents were urged “not to go outside on the balcony,” Tepedino said.
“Tenants always come up with stories,” he said. “I’m sorry to see it, but I’m glad no one got hurt.”
Tepedino said he felt the building was safe after speaking to workers Monday night and didn’t think a collapse would occur.
Long Beach city officials and building inspectors said there were no previous complaints or violations with the city and that Tepedino was cooperative Tuesday.
“We have no violations,” Tepedino said.
Asked if the building was safe, Tepedino said, “It sure is. The terraces were built after. So there’s nothing wrong with the building.”
He said “it’s hard to tell” if the collapse could have been prevented. “You can’t tell what’s behind the bricks,” he said. “We’re assessing the building now and [we’ll] see what the engineer recommends.”
Long Beach building department zoning inspector Rich Schuh said the building was built in 1949 and said the owner had obtained a permit “about a week ago” to conduct “minor repointing” of brickwork there.
Responders from Long Beach, Point Lookout and Island Park fire departments, as well as ambulance crews and the Nassau County police emergency service unit officers assisted. Even after the collapse, chunks of brick continued to fall from the balconies throughout the morning.
One third-floor resident, Edward Bithorn, 55, said he was headed to the balcony and had just reached the door when he heard what he said sounded “like an explosion” — and he “hit the brakes.”
Several residents waited outside the damaged building Tuesday morning.
Christiana Baggie was in her ground floor apartment Tuesday morning and had planned to go onto her patio to have coffee before the two balconies above her collapsed.
She stood outside the building Tuesday morning dismayed at the damage and pile of concrete and crumpled metal that collapsed onto her patio.
“There was no warning. It just happened very fast,” Baggie said. “I just thank God I wasn’t out there. I would have been crushed. My guardian angel was here.”
She said she ran out of her apartment screaming to make sure her neighbors were OK.
Contractors started doing work late last week to repair loose bricks on the top two floors, Baggie said.
Scaffolding adorned the front entrance, next to the two fallen balconies.
“It’s such a freak thing,” she said. “I’m very grateful to be alive.”
With John Valenti