Massive Explosion Ignites East Harlem

A fatal explosion rocked an East Harlem neighborhood early this morning. A Con Ed spokesperson said that they received a gas leak call at 9:13 a.m. from a Park Avenue resident. Two minutes later, a truck was dispatched, but an explosion rocked the neighborhood before it arrived. Two neighborhood buildings collapsed in the blast, near 116th Street and Park Avenue.

A witness to the scene told CNN:

“I heard a big explosion. I didn’t know what was going on. … My neighbors came banging on my door, telling me to get out. I guess they were evacuating the building. And I couldn’t get out. My door was jammed. Everything on my windowsill fell. I guess the impact of the explosion jammed the door as well.”

Later in the day, CNN reported three fatalities, as well as 63 people — and growing — injured. At least 10 people remained unaccounted for as of 7 p.m.

Emergency Response in Full Effect

Manhattan first responders quickly stepped into action following the building collapse. Gas and electric utility workers dug up pavement to shut gas lines, while more than 250 firefighters were sent to extinguish the fires and search for survivors of the explosion. The NYPD bomb squad was also called to the scene.

At the site of the blast, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that authorities are “expending every effort to locate each and every loved one.”

‘I Thought I Was Going to Die’

According to The Wall Street Journal, the two buildings had stood on Park Avenue for at least 100 years and contained 15 apartments. One of the buildings received a city permit last year to install 120 feet of gas piping, a project which was completed last June. The owners of the adjacent building were fined in 2008 for failing to maintain vertical cracks in the rear of the building.

Aisha Watts, a resident at 1652 Park Ave., said she was in her bathroom when she heard the explosion.

“It felt like an earthquake. I thought I was going to die,” she told the newspaper.

Many media sources first learned of the explosion via Twitter. The New York Post put together a timeline of events, including real-time updates and photos from New York residents shared immediately after the explosion and as the day has unfolded.

“I thought it was something with the train, or terrorists,” said Javon Scott, a resident of the Robert A. Taft Houses on 115th St. and Madison Ave.

The MTA halted Metro-North trains from entering or leaving Grand Central.  And, a Red Cross help center has been set up at 176 E. 115th St. to help anyone affected by the tragedy. Con Ed has said the cause of the explosion and if gas leaks continue is still unclear, while the situation continues to change with new information being explored. Meanwhile, New York authorities continue to respond to this horrible tragedy.

“This is a tragedy of the worst kind, because there was no indication in time to save people,” the mayor said.

Ted Oshman

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