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Storm may have caused collapse

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While the Park Slope area was spared any tornados during Wednesday’s killer storm, a South Slope building did collapse — possibly because of the torrential rain.

Now, a family has been ordered to evacuate its home after the three-story building’s wall went down. They say they’ve been warning the city and the building’s owner about its dangerous state for years.

“I was in the basement of my house in my music studio, when I heard a noise like someone dragging a large piece of furniture across the ceiling above me, except that it went on for 20 seconds, and you could feel the house shaking,” said Andrew Mason, who, along with his parents, wife and two young children, had to vacate his home on Wednesday.

“I ran upstairs to see what was happening, and when I realized there wasn’t anything going on in my house, I looked out the front door,” recalled Mason. “It was just white dust. I got a washcloth to cover my face, and I knew right away what had happened — we had kind of been excepting something like this for a while.”

Indeed the house next door, at 18–20 Jackson Place, between 16th Street and Prospect Avenue, has been a source of anxiety in the neighborhood for at least two years — ever since it was sold for $1.1 million to a development group called J1 Development LLC. Since then, the owners have submitted at least three construction plans to the Buildings Department, all of which have been denied. Meanwhile, the house has been gutted and left open to the elements.

About a year ago, according to Mason, a crack began developing along the northeast wall.

“It just kept getting bigger and bigger,” said Mason. “From my backyard, you could see the interior of the house, which they had gutted, and you could see that wall starting to bow.”

Mason said he proceeded to send letter after letter and photo after photo to local elected officials and to the Buildings Department.

“The buildings inspectors would tack some violation on the door, and aside from the violations sitting there getting wet in the rain, nothing ever happened,” said Mason.

John Rice, who lives two houses down from the collapsed building, expressed similar frustration.

“Between snow storms and garbage and crackheads, and a family of raccoons living there, it’s been a very problematic building. …We knew this was going to happen, we’ve been telling everyone it was going to happen, and finally it did happen. That no one was killed is just amazing.”

Mark Zeldin, the developer, was reached on his cell phone on Thursday, but said he was in the Department of Buildings offices and could not talk.

“No comment at this time,” said Zeldin. “We’re going to knock [the rest of the building] down today.”

The Buildings Department confirmed that the city’s Department of Housing and Preservation Development would complete demolition of the building.

In a statement, the department said, “While the cause of the partial collapse has yet to be determined, preliminary reports indicate that storm conditions and torrential rain may have contributed to the collapse.”

Meanwhile, Mason’s family has been staying with the Rices. They still have no idea how long the vacate order will last, or how much structural damage has been done to their home.

“This is obviously extremely disruptive,” said Mason. “School is starting. My daughter is just starting middle school.”

“I’m very frustrated and upset that something that I knew was going to happen happened in spite of my best efforts to warn everyone I could think of about it.”

Wednesday’s storm, which included what meteorologists say was the first tornado to hit Brooklyn since 1889, killed at least one person — a woman on Staten Island whose car was stuck beneath an underpass and was struck by another car from behind.

All subway lines in the city experienced delays or diversions.

The storm also caused delays of up to an hour and a half at JFK, Laguardia and Newark airports.

After the rain stopped, the weather turned sunny and humid. Temperatures hit the high 90s, and Mayor Bloomberg urged residents to head to cooling centers around the city.

Following the storm, local politicians, including state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) called on Gov. Pataki to declare the neighborhoods hit by the tornado disaster areas.

Updated 4:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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