Misc: Elevator

Note: Sounds real to me, but at the same time many interesting things I've read on the first of April have turned out to be fabrications intended to amuse.

April 1, 1998

Water Rising in an Elevator and No Way to Get Out


NEW YORK -- When she saw "Titanic" in December, Suzana Piamenta had no idea that within a few months she would be surrounded by frigid, swirling water as she screamed for life and held her yapping dog above her head. And just as in the movie, she said, there were no lifeboats around.

But Mrs. Piamenta's ordeal didn't take place in the North Atlantic. She was battling the forces of nature in the basement of her Upper East Side Manhattan building, the victim of two of New York's worst horrors: a waterpipe break and an out-of-control elevator.

"I really thought I was doing that movie with Leonardo DiCaprio," she said. "The water was up to my neck within a few seconds, and I had nowhere to go."

Mrs. Piamenta's predicament began just after 7 a.m., when she took her Jack Russell terrier, Chloe, back inside her building at 241 E. 86th St. after the dog's morning constitutional.

When she pushed the button for the 18th floor, the elevator instead dropped to the basement. For most apartment dwellers, this would be bad enough, but Mrs. Piamenta, 22, soon had another concern: the water surging through the elevator door.

"I started banging on the elevator door the moment it fell," she said. "I was pressing 18 to see if it would go up and my dog was scratching at the door. Then I saw water creeping in and I started to panic."

Chloe did, too, and as soon as the cold water hit her paws, the dog scrambled into Mrs. Piamenta's arms. She was busy pushing the elevator's alarm button and screaming.

"The next thing I knew, the water was up to my waist and Chloe was scratching all over me, trying to climb up," she said. "I thought I was going to die. The water was cold and everything was getting dark."

About this time, Mrs. Piamenta's husband, Jacky, was heading off to work at their store, New York City Bagels, on Second Avenue near 64th Street. He heard the insistent ringing of the elevator bell, then recognized his wife's voice screaming for help and Chloe's distinctive bark.

"It was a very special bark, protective like an alarm, and my wife was really screaming," he said. "I thought she had been attacked by the East Side rapist."

When he reached the first floor and flung open the door to the basement, Mr. Piamenta, 36, was confronted by a room full of dirty water and no way to save his wife. He ran out to get the help of a construction crew across the street.

By then, the superintendent had opened the doors to the elevator shaft on the first floor. He and the workers jumped onto the roof and broke open the top of the elevator with crowbars, finding Mrs. Piamenta with water up to her neck and climbing, and holding a panicky Chloe well above her head.

"They pulled the dog out by his leash and then grabbed my wife," said Piamenta, whose wife is 5 feet 8 inches tall. "A few seconds later, they would have been dead."

Mrs. Piamenta was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital, where doctors gave her a tetanus shot and took X-rays before releasing her.

The city's Department of Environmental Protection said the flooding occurred when a fire line controlling a sprinkler system ruptured. It was repaired later in the day, said Charles Strucken, a city spokesman.

Mrs. Piamenta isn't about to take the chance that either incident was a fluke, saying that the elevators in her building have always been problematic and she wants to move.

"I won't ever set foot in that building again," she said, curled up on a bed in her parents' Upper West Side apartment. "We've got rent due tomorrow, but I think they will understand when we leave and don't pay. I just don't feel safe there anymore."

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