NYC Gas Leak Causes Two Buildings to Explode, Collapse in Harlem

Smoke+fills+the+Harlem+sky+after+a+disastrous+explosion.

Anthony Behar

Smoke fills the Harlem sky after a disastrous explosion.

Gabi Caballero, Photo Manager

Last Wednesday morning, two buildings completely collapsed on 116th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem in New York City, in what appeared to be an explosion.  The event shocked people and made many immediately paranoid about terrorism.

Neighbors report that the smell of gas had built up from the previous night until about 9:00 in the morning. Roughly 20 minutes later, the buildings were reduced to rubble. The tremors from the explosion could be felt from more than a mile away, and the blast was captured on surveillance cameras from several local businesses.

The explosion scattered debris out into the streets and blew out windows of buildings as much as a block away. The debris in the street blocked some people in their neighboring apartments and others were trapped in their cars.

As of press time, city officials have announced that the explosion was indeed due to a gas leak.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference that there was little warning about the disaster and nowhere near enough time to evacuate the area. “This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people,” he said.  He also warned that the search of the rubble “will take quite a bit of time.”

So far three people have been confirmed killed and roughly 50 have been injured, two of them critically. Nine of the occupants of the apartment building  were inside at the time of the explosion and have yet to be found. Rescue teams continue to search for the missing people as of late Wednesday.

The victims were treated and release at several hospitals in the area. Officials say 22 people, one of which was a woman with critical head trauma, were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital. 13 more were taken to Harlem Hospital Center. One of those 13 was a 15-year-old boy in critical condition. Another 18 with minor injuries were seen at Metropolitan Hospital Center.

Families were told to call 311 if they were looking for loved ones. The Red Cross set up a center at a nearby school where the families gathered while waiting for the missing to be found.

The NY Fire Department received the first report of a fire at 9:31 a.m. When they had arrived two minutes later, the buildings had collapsed. The buildings had a total of 15 apartments reaching five stories high; approximately 55 feet tall according to Buildings Department records. One had a church on the ground floor and the other had a piano store.

Roughly 250 firefighters responded to the explosion and began to clear through the debris and rubble but as night fell, the rescue efforts were limited. A team from  the National Transportation Safety Board, which oversees pipeline safety, came in late Wednesday night, with the cause of the leak remaining unclear.