The blast, which scattered debris across nearby rooftops, brought
down the adjoining five-story buildings, with a total of 15
apartments, at about 9:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) on a largely residential
Upper Manhattan block at East 116th Street and Park Avenue.
Clouds of thick smoke billowed from the rubble of the apartment
houses that had sat above a ground-level church and a piano store in
a largely Latino working-class neighborhood.
Pockets of fire and heat smoldered inside the mounds of debris for
many hours after the blasts, complicating search-and-rescue
operations that continued under flood lights through the night, city
Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella said.
He said city officials estimated that nine people were still missing
as of midnight. A police spokesman said five people remained
unaccounted for early on Thursday morning.
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 told a news conference the blast occurred 15 minutes after
a resident in an adjacent building called Con Edison to complain of
a gas odor.
Edward Foppiano, Con Ed's vice president for gas operations, said
while the utility could not say for certain what caused the
explosion, it was treating the incident as a gas leak. The utility
most recently responded to customer complaint about a gas odor in
the area in May, but the issue had been resolved, Foppiano said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating
the "gas explosion and subsequent fire."
Metro-North Railroad, which had shut down train traffic moving
through Manhattan while it cleared debris from the tracks, announced
in late afternoon it had restored all commuter rail service through
Two women were confirmed early in the day as having been killed, and
the body of a third woman was found in the rubble later, police
said. Late Wednesday night, search teams pulled the body of a fourth
victim from the site, fire department spokesman Khalid Baylor said.
The fourth, fifth, and six victims were two adult males and an adult
female, police said.
One of the victims was identified as Griselde Camacho, a campus
public safety officer for Hunter College in East Harlem, according
to a message posted on the school's website. Her age was not given.
More than 40 people were injured, most of them suffering cuts,
broken bones and smoke inhalation, police spokesman Christopher
At least three children were among those hurt. Two were treated for
minor injuries and released, while a third was in critical
condition, hospital officials told a news conference.
[to top of second column]
"THE WHOLE BUILDING SHOOK"
"This is a tragedy because there was no time to warn people ahead of
time," de Blasio said. "We are expending every effort to locate each
and every loved one."
At least three children were among the injured.
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.
heard a big explosion. Boom!" said Aisha Watts, who lives in the
building next door.
"The walls started crumbling down. The windows were gone," Watts
said. The mother of three said she feared she would die but was soon
rescued by a neighbor who kicked down the jammed door to her home.
Six blocks away, Robert Pauline's apartment was rocked by the
"All of a sudden the whole building shook. We had no idea what was
going on," said the 56-year-old Columbia University data processor.
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 held at 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,
For a graphic on the explosion, click on
(Additional reporting by Anna Hiatt; writing by Barbara Goldberg;
editing by Alistair Lyon)
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