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. Three people were killed and one was missing, officials said.
About 20 people were injured in the collapse at the Tropicana Casino and Resort, several critically.
Two of the victims died at the scene, with one body not extracted from the rubble until Thursday evening, said Michael Schurman, deputy director of emergency management for Atlantic County. One person died at a hospital. The search continued for the missing person.
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, said search cameras and dogs were sent into the rubble of the 10-story garage to locate missing workers, and trucks carrying lumber were being brought in to try to shore up the building. He called it "one of the worst collapses Atlantic City has ever seen."
Construction 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 rumbling 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 made it out 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 of 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.
The project's general contractor, Keating Construction, said in a statement: "This is a difficult time. Obviously, our first concern is the well-being of the people that are injured or missing."
Last October, three workers were injured at the Tropicana site when a one-story panel of concrete they were standing on collapsed.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was leading the investigation into the cause of the collapse.
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.