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

in Entertainment

REVIEW: ‘Birdman’ could be the best film of 2014

In this image released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Michael Keaton portrays Riggan in a scene from "Birdman."

You’ve heard the buzz for Michael Keaton's "Birdman." It’s loud and it's merited.

in Sports, Viral Videos

Nike hype video welcomes LeBron back to Cleveland

14-overlay4

The video huddles the whole city as "The King" returns home.

in Entertainment

PHOTOS: 31 adorable pets in Halloween costumes

Bailey Jarrett and her dog Teddy visit a Dallas-area PetSmart store on Oct. 25, 2014, for the company's annual in-store Halloween event. The event took place at all PetSmart locations throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

This Halloween is going to the dogs... and cats, ferrets, and bunnies.

in Music

Hunter Hayes plans tech-filled tour

hunterhayes

Hayes says he's using technology "still in the design phase" that has never been used on tour before.

in Entertainment

Apple CEO Tim Cook: ‘I’m proud to be gay’

timcook

Cook wrote a column published on Thursday and said he hopes that his declaration can help others.