TWO people died and at least 2 others were injured after a residential building exploded and collapsed the East Harlem area of Manhattan.
Police said two women are confirmed dead, at least 12 people are still missing and the death toll could rise, police sources told the
New York Post.
The blast is being investigated as a gas explosion, the
Wall Street Journal
Gas company Con Ed said the utility had recieved a call about a possible gas leak in the building around 9.13am local time (12.13 AEDT) and a truck was on the way to the site at the time of the explosion.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who rushed to the scene, said people were missing and suggested some might have fled to safety.
“There will be a search through the rubble of the building as soon as the fire is put out,” he said.
“This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people.”
There is no indication of foul play, said Mr De Blasio.
At least 14 patients, including two children and a patient with a brain injury, were being treated at Mt Sinai Hospital, reports CNN. They are in serious condition.
“There’s nothing left,” said Eusebio Perez, 48, a piano technician who lived in one of the buildings and rushed home from work as soon as he heard the news.
“Just a bunch of bricks and wood.”
He added: “I only have what I’m wearing.”
Firefighters and emergency first responders are on the scene as clouds of dark smoke billowed over the neighbourhood. The fire department said it sent nearly 170 members to the scene.
The pavement for blocks around the building in Harlem were littered with broken glass from shattered storefront and apartment windows.
“It felt like an earthquake had rattled my whole building,” said Waldemar Infante, 24, a porter from a nearby residential building who was working in the basement when the explosion occurred.
“There were glass shards everywhere on the ground and all the stores had their windows blown out.”
A resident from a building next to the two that collapsed reported that he smelled gas inside his apartment, but thought the odor could be coming from outside, Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee said.
McGee said the street is served by a 20-centimetre low pressure gas main, but would not speculate on whether a gas leak caused the explosion.
“We’re working with the FDNY and checking gas lines,” he said.
“We’re working to isolate any leaks and make the area safe.”
Witnesses say the blast was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby stores.
Police, some wearing gas and medical masks, handed out medical masks to residents and onlookers because of the thick white smoke that shrouded the area.
Local resident Aisha Watts heard the explosion and felt her building shake for what felt like five minutes, she told the WSJ.
“It felt like an earthquake. I thought I was going to die,” she said. Watts saw windows and walls crumble, and was trapped in her bathroom when the door jammed.
Rescue workers showed up to the building near the corner of East 116th and Park Avenue at around 9.30am local time (12.30am AEDT), the
New York Post
Officials confirmed that the blast brought down the five story buildings on Park Avenue near the corner of East 116th Street, reducing them to rubble.
Local resident Eoin Hayes, 26, said he heard the explosion at about 9.30am, ran to the window and saw flames consuming one building and smoke rising into the air.
“I was in my bedroom and the explosion went off, it kind of shook the whole building,” Mr Hayes said.
“You could feel the vibrations going through the building.”
Mr Hayes said the fire consumed one building and then moved to the one next to it before the flames eventually subsided.
The two buildings affected were a piano shop with apartments above, and a building that houses a church, The New York Post reports.
“It was an explosion and a building collapsed,” a NYPD spokesman said.
Exclusive photo up close of scene of Manhattan/ Harlem explosion fire. pic.twitter.com/NoKzBmo7hy
mdash; Shimon Prokupecz (@ShimonPro) March 12, 2014
“The whole building shook,” said a worker at the nearby Tulcingo Travel. “I think people must be injured. I see a lot of smoke.
“Something just blew up on the east-side of Harlem. Felt it all the way in apt 20 floors up. Sister woke up thinking it was an earthquake,” posted @Mrodrig223 on Twitter.
Multiple ambulances were requested to respond to the scene.
Witness reported smelling gas in the weeks prior to the explosion.
“It smelled like gas, it always smells of gas around here,” said Julie Mark, a local resident. “There were people everywhere crying.”
mdash; FDNY (@FDNY) March 12, 2014
Injured being treated At scene right now. pic.twitter.com/jaWHQgtHPR
mdash; Don Champion (@DonChampionTV) March 12, 2014