Emergency crews investigate the scene of a collapsed crane at Fairview Avenue North and Mercer Street in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood Saturday afternoon. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

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Seattle’s construction frenzy turned deadly Saturday afternoon when a tower crane working on a new Google campus fell like a thunderbolt from the roof of a South Lake Union building, smashing into six cars and killing four people.

Two ironworkers who were in the crane and two people in separate cars were dead by the time Seattle firefighters got to the site at Fairview Avenue North and Mercer Street around 3:30 p.m., fire officials said. Four others were injured.

Three of them — a 25-year-old woman and her 4-month-old daughter, and a 27-year-old man — were taken to Harborview Medical Center. Remarkably, none of them suffered life-threatening injuries, said hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg. The fourth victim was treated by medics at the scene. The mother and the baby were discharged late Saturday.

The state Department of Labor and Industries is investigating the cause of the accident, which was not known Saturday night.  Several witnesses and the National Weather Service reported a storm squall with powerful gusting winds moved through the area at the time the crane was being dismantled, then toppled.

Seattle’s cranes kept coming — and until now, operated safely

“It was terrifying,” said Esther Nelson, a biotech research assistant who was working in a building nearby and saw the crane fall from a break-room window.

“I looked up. The wind was blowing really strong,” she recalled. She saw boats struggling on Lake Union. Then the crane — she estimated it was maybe eight or nine stories high — broke in half.

“Half of it was flying down sideways on the building,” she said. “The other half fell down on the street, crossing both lanes of traffic.”

It was the first fatal tower crane collapse in more than a dozen years in the Seattle area, during a period of remarkable growth with skyscrapers sprouting up and cranes dotting the skyline.  Much of that construction explosion has occurred in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

The King County Medical Examiner’s Office said it would not release the names of the fatalities —  three men and a woman — until Monday.

Seattle activated its emergency operations center Saturday afternoon to coordinate the response. Police interviewed witnesses at the nearby Even Hotel.

“This is a tragic day in Seattle with this catastrophic incident in the heart of our city,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “My heart breaks for those who lost loved ones today, and we are praying for strength for those injured.”

Among them were Deyan Cashmere, 20, of Australia, who was in Seattle for cancer care at nearby Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He was with his father, Eric, 48, and the pair of them had noticed hours before the collapse that the crane was being dismantled. To him, it appeared to be leaning.

“I thought it was going to fall,” Deyan Cashmere said. “It was at an angle. It wasn’t standing upright.”

Eric “Bruce” Cashmere and Deyan Cashmere were concerned that a crane in South Lake Union was leaning heavily and made this time lapse of it disconnecting from another crane. Later, the crane fell onto Mercer Ave. (Courtesy of Eric “Bruce” Cashmere)

His father took a time-lapse video of the crane. About five minutes later, they heard a loud bang.

“We got up and said, ‘That’s the crane,’” Deyan Cashmere said.

Both he and his father have worked with cranes and machinery in Australia, and said they recognized right away the crane’s weight was not properly distributed. Police took the images from Eric Cashmere’s phone and interviewed the pair.

Corina Berriel, 27, was driving west on Mercer when the crane started falling and hit a black Nissan right behind her.

“The first thing I felt was a jolt from behind,” she said. “It almost felt like an earthquake.” She saw dust and debris falling from the sky. She thought she was about to die.

When she looked in her rearview mirror, she watched a portion of the bright yellow tower hit the car behind her. The vehicle’s rear windows and trunk were crushed but the vehicle was able to move when traffic sped up. Berriel said a woman got out of the car and ran away.

Berriel also saw a couple walking their dog flee the scene, the dog in their arms as they ran. She could see them shaking.

The bright-yellow portion of the crane that crashed to the street landed almost squarely on top of an Audi, virtually cutting the vehicle in half. That car’s occupants were the woman and child.