East Harlem explosion kills two, injures at least 22

By Jenna Iacurci, Parent Herald March 12, 03:08 pm

Two East Harlem buildings collapsed early this morning from an apparent gas leak, killing two people and injuring at least 22.

Firefighters and rescue crew continue to search for more survivors possibly trapped by debris, officials said.

More than a dozen people are still unaccounted for.

"There are a number of missing individuals," Mayor Bill de Blasio, who rushed to the scene, told Reuters. "We are expending every effort to locate each and every loved one."

The blast occurred on the mostly residential block at East 116th Street and Park Avenue in Upper Manhattan. It brought down neighboring five-story buildings and a total of 15 apartments at around 9:30 a.m. The apartments are situated above a ground-level church and a piano store in a largely Latino working-class neighborhood. The explosion could be felt a mile away.

"All of a sudden the whole building shook. We had no idea what was going on," said Robert Pauline, 56, a Columbia University data processor whose apartment is six blocks away.

Debris was propelled onto nearby rooftops and the Metro North Railroad, whose service is currently suspended. Commuters are being rerouted to New York City subways, and it is unclear whether normal train service will resume in time for the evening commute.

About 200 firefighters from 44 units are in the middle of removing debris using buckets and clearing the scene, searching for missing parties.

Officials at the press conference said that the blast occurred 15 minutes after a resident in an adjacent building called Con Edison to complain of a gas odor.

The Fire Department said it received the first report at 9:31 a.m., and discovered upon arriving that two residential buildings - 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue - had collapsed.

"It's a very active scene. It's a very chaotic scene," said Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this incident," the White House said in a statement.

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