NEW YORK - Emergency crews worked yesterday to stabilize a Manhattan apartment building damaged in a deadly crane collapse, as displaced residents waited to see when they could get inside.

About a dozen residents and others said a short prayer and observed a moment of silence at a vigil yesterday evening for those killed, hurt and forced from their homes by Friday's accident, the city's second fatal crane collapse in 2 1/2 months.

Rafi Aharon left his apartment building with his 7-year-old son, Roy, less than a minute before part of the 200-foot crane smashed into the building Friday, the father said.

"It was very scary," Aharon, 40, said at the vigil, held about a block from the Upper East Side accident site.

The collapse killed two construction workers and quickened criticism of the city's embattled Department of Buildings, already under fire over a recent series of fatal construction accidents.

The agency said it had begun a forensic investigation into what went wrong, and the probe would include examining the crane parts.

Earlier yesterday, a cherry picker hoisted workers onto the damaged building's top floor to survey the wreckage as tourists and neighborhood residents watched.

Gina and Larry Bliss and daughters Lainie, 22 months, and Sadie, 5 months, who live in the damaged building, had been told they could go in yesterday morning to check on their belongings. But when they got to the police barricade surrounding the accident scene, they were told to come back later.

The Blisses said their 13th-floor apartment was not damaged by the crane, which crushed a penthouse and clawed through the balconies below it.

The family moved in a week before the accident and has no plans to leave. "As long as the building's safe, we're going back," Gina Bliss said. "We love the area."

The crane's cab popped off its mast during construction of a new condo tower on East 91st Street, 40 blocks north of the site where another crane collapse killed seven people on March 15.

Emily Schottland, who said she can see the construction site from her kitchen, said the accident did not surprise her, given the project's hectic pace.

"Within one day, they had put up two floors," she said.

Friday's crane collapse added to a string of accidents that have killed more than two dozen construction workers in the past year. *