By Ben Fractenberg, Andrea Swalec, Patrick Hedlund and Tom Liddy
BROOKLYN — A crane pulled by a tugboat in the East River struck scaffolding beneath the Brooklyn Bridge Tuesday, ripping a massive gash in the protective covering beneath the landmark span and stopping traffic, authorities said.
The incident occurred shortly after 8 p.m. near middle of the bridge, which is undergoing a a $508 million renovation project that includes retrofitting the span’s steel supports, with the crane ripping a 20-foot hole into the scaffolding, the FDNY said.
"It sounded like a building was falling," said Johvon Durden, 17, who was hanging out with friends on the Brooklyn side of the span. "I thought it was 9/11 all over again."
Durden said that he saw the crane, which was perched atop a barge and heading south on the river, grate against the scaffolding.
"Debris was falling from the bridge," he said. At midspan, the clearance is 135 feet.
FDNY Dep. Chief Vinny Mandala, of Division 11, said that he had never heard of something hitting the Brooklyn Bridge in his 32 years with the department.
Sources said that the boat carrying the crane was escorted to the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, NJ afterward so that the Coast Guard could inspect it.
No criminality was suspected and no injuries were immediately reported.
Sources said there did not appear to be any structural damage, although Department of Transportation workers were checking the affected area to be sure.
The bridge's Manhattan-bound lanes were closed to traffic temporarily as a result of the smashup, according to the city's Office of Emergency Management.
A portion of one lane was still closed near the center of the bridge nearly three hours later.
Officials from the Coast Guard, NYPD, FDNY, OEM and Department of Transportation responded to the scene, authorities said.