News

Firefighters search for missing in NYC building explosion

Firefighters search for missing in NYC building explosion

BUILDING COLLAPSE: Firefighters respond to a fire on 116th Street in Harlem after a building exploded in huge flames and billowing black smoke, leading to the collapse of at least one building and several injuries, Wednesday, March 12, in New York. Photo: Saga Communications/John Minchillo

nycexplosion
Police respond to the scene of an explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12. The explosion leveled an apartment building, and sent flames and billowing black smoke above the skyline. (AP Photo/Jeremy Sailing)

By Chris Francescani and Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two New York buildings collapsed on Wednesday in an explosion believed to be caused by a gas leak, killing two people, injuring at least 22, and setting off a search for more feared trapped in the debris, officials said.

A blast that scattered debris onto nearby rooftops brought down neighboring five-story buildings with a total of 15 apartments at about 9:30 a.m. on the largely residential block at East 116th Street and Park Avenue in Upper Manhattan.

Clouds of thick smoke billowed from the rubble of the apartment buildings that sat above a ground-level church and a piano store in a largely Latino working-class neighborhood. Officials declined to give a number of people still missing.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who rushed to the scene in East Harlem, where a cascade of twisted and burnt metal blocked the sidewalk and covered parked cars, said preliminary information showed the explosion was caused by a gas leak.

Officials at the press conference said the blast occurred 15 minutes after a resident in an adjacent building called Con Edison to complain of a gas odor.

Hundreds of firefighters were scouring the mounds of debris for survivors and trapped bodies.

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

Crews also scrambled to clean up the debris, which littered nearby train tracks and shut down Metro-North Railroad service, ahead of the evening commute.

Neighbors said they thought an earthquake was shaking them from their beds and breakfast tables. The explosion, which could be heard from blocks away, shattered windows around the neighborhood.

“All of a sudden the whole building shook. We had no idea what was going on,” said Robert Pauline, 56, a Columbia University data processor whose apartment six blocks away was rocked by the explosion.

The force of the blast blew Joseph Concepcion, 30, who lives less than a block away, at least an inch off his couch.

“I literally got lifted off my couch, the boom was so strong,” Concepcion said.

President Barack Obama was briefed on the collapse and sent his condolences to the victims’ families and his support to first responders at the scene.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this incident,” the White House said in a statement.

Crowds of residents, their faces covered with protective scarves and masks, filled the sidewalks of surrounding streets, which were blocked off with yellow police tape.

“It’s a very active scene. It’s a very chaotic scene,” said Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella.

Fire trucks used high cranes to spray blasts of water into the rubble, as dozens of ambulances and police cruisers with flashing lights swarmed the scene.

During the morning commute, trains were stopped in nearby stations because of debris on the tracks and passengers were ordered off the Metro-North Railroad cars at the Fordham stop in the Bronx, passengers said.

Metro-North said it had been rerouting commuters to New York City subways and it was not yet clear whether normal train service would resume in time for the evening rush hour.

(Additional reporting Anna Hiatt; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Gunna Dickson)

Recent Headlines

12 hours ago in Local

UIS Breaks Ground on Student Union

5-4-16 UIS Groundbreaking

Ground has been broken on what is being referred to as the "Living Room" for the students of the University of Illinois Springfield.

12 hours ago in Local

Aeropostale to Close Springfield, Forsyth Stores

aeropostale

Aeropostale files for Chapter 11.

12 hours ago in Local

Social Service Groups Sue Governor for $100M Past Due

Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate businessman Bruce Rauner participates in a Republican gubernatorial candidate debate Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. The four Republican gubernatorial candidates said that they’ll be willing to work with unions if elected but differed on how to approach the relationship during a downstate debate that largely focused on pension reform, taxes and just briefly on personal issues that have dogged some of the candidates.

Five dozen social service agencies working without pay for nearly a year because of the Illinois state budget stalemate are suing Gov. Bruce Rauner.

13 hours ago in Local

Trial Set for 2 of 6 Men Accused of Dismembering Woman’s Body

Champaign Police Murder Arrests WAND

Two of the six men charged with dismembering a missing Champaign woman will be held for trial after a judge heard testimony from a detective.

14 hours ago in Local

Death Knell for Graduated Income Tax

tax

Sponsors blame Rauner