By Todd Maisel
Queens Daily Eagle
Construction workers building a house foundation next to a long-standing Ozone Park pet store caused the rear floors and walls of the store to collapse Friday afternoon, FDNY officials said.
No injuries were reported in the collapse, but owners of the Animal Pantry at 137-20 Cross Bay Blvd. said all of the fish died and some of the reptiles are missing and presumed dead. Animals that were recovered from the debris were evacuated.
The Department of Buildings slapped a “stop-work” order on the construction site at 90-19 Albert Road and Buildings officials said they were forced to put an emergency vacate order on the pet store.
The owner and store employees rushed to the scene at about 3 p.m. on Friday and found firefighters closing off the rear of the building after construction crews from AT-SAF Inc. store undermined the rear foundation of the store while building a house foundation, Animal Pantry owners said. The Department of Buildings officials on the scene said that the rear of the store, located on Albert Road, was too dangerous to enter due to the threat of further collapse of bricks and roof.
“It’s gotten even worse and more of the rear has collapsed,” said Bart Scibilia, owner of the store for more than seven years. The store has been there for more than 20 years under a different owner.
“It’s all gone in the rear, the [fish] tanks are down and the rain just got didn’t help. The ceiling is collapsing even more,” Scibilia said.
FDNY officials taped off the construction excavation as large chunks of the wall, with no visible supports remaining, continued to fall as firefighters stood by, according to the pet store’s Facebook page. Scibilia said inspectors from the DOB told him that he could not enter the aquarium area because of life-threatening danger.
The owner and employees said they went to work evacuating six cats from the store, and three more were unaccounted for during their search, though they believed the cats were merely hiding due to the large numbers of firefighters on scene. The cats were recovered on Sunday in good condition. Some of the reptiles were found unharmed, including a 12-year-old bearded dragon. Some of the mice and gerbils were also found unharmed.
Fire officials ordered the electric and gas be turned off to prevent a fire or explosion. Scibilia said the shutdown doomed most of the aquatic life in the rear of the store because without heat and filtration, most of the tropical fish would die. By Sunday, most of the floors in the aquarium had collapsed, but Scibilia said he could not access that area due to continued danger. By Sunday, all of the fish tanks, both freshwater and salt, were collapsed.
Christine Scibilia, the wife of the owner, said the family is devastated by the incident.
“This store is our life, it is our everything — I don’t know what is going to happen now,” she said.
It was unclear as to what could be done to save the store as the city and construction company find a way to secure the site from further collapse. By Sunday, the 30-foot opening had spread to more than 50 feet.
The cats were taken to nearby Veterinary Care Unlimited on Rockaway Boulevard until homes could be found for them. Animal Pantry recently held an adopt-a-thon in which they found homes for more than 50 kittens and cats.
In a statement, DOB said the agency “was called to the scene after a 25 foot by 10 foot section of the side wall of the building collapsed on to a neighboring construction site at 90-19 Albert Road, where excavation and foundation work were ongoing.”
DOB said it issued a partial vacate order to 137-20 Crossbay Boulevard, which affected only the Animal Pantry. The DOB also issued violations to Inderpal Singh, the general contractor working at 90-19 Albert Road “for a failure to safeguard the construction site, and a full stop work order to the site as a result of the incident.”