updated 4/5/2008 11:13:06 AM ET 2008-04-05T15:13:06

When a construction crane collapsed, wrecking a Manhattan brownstone and killing a woman inside, there was scant hope any life would emerge from the rubble. Six other people died. But somehow, two cats survived.

Mr. Gloves was found the day of the collapse, huddled near a church door and coated in brick dust; Gooksie turned up 10 days later in an old coal chute under a nearby brownstone.

The creatures, whose owners, Jean Squeri and Kerry Walker, lived on the top floor of the demolished building, are now staying with the couple in the apartment of Squeri's son.

"It's a miracle," said Gini Otway, a neighbor who led the search for the animals.

Otway lived two buildings away from the town house, not far from the United Nations, that was reduced to rubble March 15.

A towering crane at a construction site a block away came crashing down, hitting the top of a high-rise, then somersaulting across a block and demolishing the home.

Cat 'traumatized'
Later that afternoon, Otway's doorbell rang.

A neighbor who knew she was a volunteer for the animal rescue group City Critters reported that she had spotted a black-and-white cat at a nearby church. Otway grabbed a carrying case and went down to see the young tuxedo cat.

"When I picked him up, he was rigid, totally traumatized," she said. "He must have been just blown out of the building. It was like picking up a piece of wood."

She took the animal to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, where it had to be tranquilized before a veterinarian could examine it.

Otway suspected the cat belonged to Squeri and Walker, who she had heard owned two tuxedo cats — the 8-month-old male, Mr. Gloves, and a 6-year-old female, Gooksie.

After calls to neighbors and friends, Otway learned that the couple were alive; they had been out of the house at the time.

They picked up Mr. Gloves at the ASPCA the next day. "It was tears all over," Otway said.

But Gooksie was still missing.

Eyes staring back
Otway asked everyone in the neighborhood whether they had seen the cat, including firefighters and police on 24-hour duty at the scene. She put up posters with an image of a black-and-white cat.

Ten days later, a woman who lives in a nearby brownstone was sorting through belongings stored in the coal chute when she noticed something scooting by.

"I peered under a work table, and I saw some eyes starting back at me," said Joy Brown.

Otway was again summoned, and feeling fairly certain it was Gooksie, she called the couple's son, John Viscardi. When he arrived, both he and Otway started crying.

Squeri and Walker are still too traumatized to talk about the experience, Viscardi said.

Otway said the 74-year-old Squeri was on her way to a drugstore when she saw the building owned by her family for 80 years disappear in a cloud of smoke and dust.

Amid the destruction, neighbors involved in the rescue have been heartened by the story of the rescued cats.

"It was all so horrendous, and yet, people were concerned and united to try to find these cats they didn't even know — policemen, firefighters, neighbors, the Red Cross," Otway said. "As St. Paul said, this is about how to overcome evil with good."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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