NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A woman has died after a falling piece of plywood hit her in the head in Queens, authorities said.
It wasn’t the only incident of falling debris Thursday, though it was the only deadly one.
It happened at 10:40 a.m. near Main Street and 41st Road in Flushing.
The victim, 67-year-old Xiang Ji, was walking on the sidewalk when she was struck. She was rushed to the New York Presbyterian Hospital in Queens where she died.
The sound of falling plywood was deafening as firefighters cleared the site of remaining hazards.
“The wind is – every winter it’s so strong. The wind is to blame,” said Flushing resident Danny Chen.
The victim’s family tells CBS2’s Christina Fan she was a grandmother who cared deeply about her family and was in Queens to visit a nursing center. Witnesses say she was on the sidewalk when an aluminum-covered plywood panel fell off, likely because of the heavy winds.
Those who ran to her aid say the back of her head was bleeding.
“As she was being carried into the ambulance she was breathing, her eyes were open. I thought she would make it,” said witness Pan Zheng Qiang.
Investigators with the Department of Buildings were on the roof for hours inspecting the structure. One mother told Fan she’s noticed other signs and facades in the area dangling precariously as well.
“When we came down the street I was like ‘let me cover her.’ It’s not safe around here. I think people don’t really watch out for safety around this area,” said Emily Li.
The property has a history of more than 40 complaints on the Department of Building’s website, including illegal partitions, secret renovations, and most recently an illegal billboard sign. The DOB has issued a stop work order.
They later issued the following statement: “We have issued a violation to the property owner [Kam Kee Realty] for failure to properly maintain the building, and have ordered the immediate installation of a sidewalk shed at the location in the interest of public safety. Investigations into this incident, by DOB and our partners in law enforcement, are ongoing, and additional enforcement actions may be issued at the conclusion of these investigations.”
A manager for the property who was at the scene Thursday afternoon refused to answer any questions.
Thursday night, crews worked to put up that sidewalk shed to protect pedestrians from any further problems.
Fan attempted to speak with a man who identified himself to investigators as the manager, but when she started asking questions, he ran away.
“Heartbreaking news out of Queens,” Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote on Twitter. He said that the DOB is “investigating this site top-to-bottom to determine whether proper protocols were followed. Please keep the family and loved ones of this woman in your thoughts today.”
“My heart goes out to the family and friends of the woman who was struck by falling debris today in Flushing. Such a horrific tragedy should never happen to anyone who is simply walking down the sidewalk, and it is a clear example of why building owners and city agencies need to ensure building facades are safe, especially during periods of high winds. Currently, a Stop Work Order exists on the property due to several outstanding violations, and I have called for the city to shut down the building until there is a greater understanding of this building’s safety and scaffolding is in place,” said City Council member Peter Koo.
In a separate incident, debris from a high-rise under construction in Midtown came crashing down on a taxi at 57th Street and Sixth Avenue at around 2:30 p.m. The vehicle’s roof was left punctured, but no one was injured. At that same building, a crane started to swing due to the powerful winds.
The DOB issued a stop work order after it says high winds knocked a piece of suspended scaffolding into the building and sent material falling to the ground.