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Fatal Blast Levels 2 NYC Buildings

Thursday, March 13, 2014

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A “major explosion” and five-alarm blaze in upper Manhattan on Wednesday reduced two apartment buildings to rubble, killed at least two women, and left numerous others injured or missing, authorities said.

No cause was officially confirmed, but reports immediately focused on a possible natural-gas leak.

Con Edison said it had received a call about a gas odor from one of the buildings at 9:13 a.m. ET and had dispatched crews two minutes later.

Harlem Explosion
@orangeadnan / Twitter

Heavy smoke shrouded the area for several blocks around the blast zone. A gas leak was suspected.

The East Harlem buildings exploded at 9:30, just before ConEd crews arrived.

Witnesses: 'Smelling Gas for Weeks'

The New York Post, quoting "witnesses and authorities," reported that residents of the buildings had "complained of smelling gas for weeks."

The blast was felt and heard a mile away from the two five-story Park Avenue buildings, which housed 15 apartments in all. One building had a church on the ground level; the other had a piano shop, reports said.

Concussions from the explosion blew out windows in cars and shattered windows throughout the largely residential neighborhood.

Some news outlets reported that they had learned of the disaster through Twitter, where Followers were keeping up with the developments through #explosion116, #116park and #harlem explosion.

Mayor: 'Tragedy of the Worst Kind'

In a news conference at the scene shortly after noon, Mayor Bill De Blasio described the event as a "major explosion" that destroyed the buildings.

New York Daily News

"This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people," said Mayor Bill DeBlasio.

"This is a tragedy of the worst kind, because there was no indication in time to save people," he said.

"There are a number of missing individuals," de Blasio said. "We are expending every effort to locate each and every loved one."

He added: "This is going to be an extended operation. This will take quite a bit of time to fully address this issue."

At least 18 people were reported injured, including a child in critical condition and another person with life-threatening injuries.

An unknown number were still missing Wednesday afternoon, and officials warned that the death toll could rise.

Chaos

Reports described the scene as chaos, with gas and utility workers tearing up pavement in an effort to shut off gas lines; ambulances and police cars pouring in by the dozens with lights and sirens; heavy smoke shrouding a three-block radius; 250 firefighters attacking the blaze; first responders treating the injured; witnesses and crews combing debris for the missing; authorities evacuating nearby buildings; and stunned survivors wandering and looking for others.

Aerial Firefighting
@FDNY / Twitter

Fire Department of New York crews tackle the five-alarm fire ignited by Wednesday's explosion in East Harlem. More than 250 firefighters were at the scene.

Throngs of onlookers, some wearing scarves and masks over their faces, crowded the sidewalks around the streets, which were blocked off with yellow police tape. The New York Police Bomb Squad also responded to the scene, CNN reported.

Metro North commuter rail service was suspended as debris rained down on the tracks.

Firefighters were still working the blaze Wednesday afternoon.

'Lifted Off My Couch'

The force of the blast blew Joseph Concepcion, 30, at least an inch off his couch, Concepcion told Reuters.

FDNY Firefighters
@FDNY / Twitter

Crews were seeking the missing as well as fighting the blaze. Authorities said more victims were likely to be found as the search continued.

"I literally got lifted off my couch, the boom was so strong," said Concepcion, who lives less than a block away.

Another nearby resident, visibly shaken, told NY1 that the explosion had rocked him awake and sent him running to the stricken scene.

There, he said, he had found "New York City's finest, New York City's bravest at its best. The Fire Department of New York City."

   

Tagged categories: Construction; Explosions; Fire; Health and safety; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Residential

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