A crane toppled from a 16-story building under construction today, raining concrete and twisted steel on the busy financial district. Six people were killed, 21 injured and five left missing, authorities said.
The crane flattened a school van and a protective scaffolding over the sidewalk, crushed a taxi and several other cars, and smashed into a 21-story office building across the street as it buckled, swung around and went down. Bystanders fled in terror.
"It felt like an earthquake," said Merrill Lynch Vice President Joe McLaughlin, who was in the damaged office building. "I looked out and saw two bodies. One construction worker's boots were sticking up through a mass of jagged metal."
A piece of the crane at least three stories long dangled from the side of the building under construction two hours after the 8:30 a.m. accident. Police roped off the area and ambulances rushed in and out, taking away the injured.
The street was littered with flattened cars and a mangled motorcycle. Gas was cut off to the damaged office building for fear of an explosion.
Police Capt. John Newlin said the dead were a pedestrian, three construction workers, the woman driving the school van, and her only passenger, a teen-ager with Down's syndrome being taken to a special education school.
Fire Chief Fred Postel said five people were listed as missing in the twisted steel and broken concrete.
Three hospitals reported receiving 21 victims, four in serious condition. Most of the rest had minor injuries.
The crane at the top of the building that will house the Federal Home Loan Bank was hoisting construction steel when it tipped over, Postel said.
Debris rained down on a taxi driven by Issa Massarweh, who had two passengers at the time. The cab's back window was smashed.
"I don't know where my passengers are," he said. "I threw myself under the dashboard."
San Francisco General Hospital reported receiving 12 victims, four in serious condition and the rest with minor injuries. Pacific Presbyterian treated two for minor injuries, and Saint Francis Hospital treated five, all with minor injuries.
"I heard a loud bang and stepped up and saw the tail end of a crane," said stockbroker Don Trabert, who saw the accident from his office in the Bank of America building.
"It took out the top office of the old Natoma Building, then there were a lot of girders and it slid off the side of the building and crunched the walkway that protects the pedestrians. . . . It sounded like a Chinese New Year, only twice as loud.
"The crane was swinging and dangling in the air and people were scrambling away from the scene."
"I heard the crackling sound," said Paul Brenner, who works on the 26th floor of the Bank of America building. "My window faces that way. I stood up as soon as I saw it and I saw the crane buckle on the scaffolding that holds the crane.
"Talk about being helpless."