An early morning explosion of a building in Harlem, NYC has left two people dead and two other buildings in ruins. The buildings at 116th street and Park Avenue collapsed after an explosion rocked the neighborhood and engulfed the building sharing common walls. According to the New York Times there will likely be more fatalities.
“This is an occupied building, there were people living there, we have people missing,” the official said. “There was a complete collapse; the fire is still going so we can’t make a search. There will be fatalities.”
UPDATE 12:26 pm: At a press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the explosion was caused by a gas leak, and that residents “had no warning in advance.” He confirmed that there have been two deaths, and that several people remain missing. 250 firefighters are still battling the 5-alarm fire, and Con Ed is working to shut down all gas lines in the area.
Sidewalks for blocks around were littered with broken glass from shattered storefront and apartment windows. Witnesses say the blast neat Park Avenue and 116th Street was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby stores.
A neighboring building was severely damaged. The cause of the blast was unclear.
Police, some wearing gas masks and medical masks, handed out medical masks to residents and onlookers because of the thick white smoke that shrouded the area.
Eoin Hayes, 26, said the explosion shook his entire apartment building in Harlem at about 9:30 a.m. He 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,” Hayes said. “You could feel the vibrations going through the building.”
Hayes lives less than 10 blocks from where the explosion happened. He said the fire consumed one building and then moved on to another building adjacent to it, though about 40 minutes later the flames had subsided and there was mostly just smoke. Both buildings appeared to be residential.
“I ran to the window and saw the fire and the smoke going up and the sirens start,” Hayes said.
The explosion occurred very close to elevated Metro-North commuter railroad tracks. Metro-North service was suspended to and from Grand Central on all three train lines while employees remove debris from the tracks.
The fire department said it sent nearly 170 members to the scene.