Massive Explosion Levels 2 Buildings In NYC; 2 Dead [GALLERY]

By: CBS News Copy Email
By: CBS News Copy Email

CBS News Release
Last Updated Mar 12, 2014 12:30 PM EDT

NEW YORK -- An explosion leveled two buildings Wednesday morning in East Harlem, sending flames and smoke billowing into the air, killing at least two people and injuring more than a dozen others, CBS New York reports. Mayor Bill de Blasio said there are a "number" of people missing.

It happened around 9 a.m. on Park Avenue on 116th Street, the FDNY said. One of the buildings that collapsed had a piano repair shop with apartments above. The second building housed a church.

Officials believe both buildings were 5-stories. Evacuations are under way in the area.

WCBS reports at least two people, both female, were killed in the explosion. The FDNY says 17 injuries have also been reported, four serious and 12 minor. Harlem Hospital says it received one patient with serious trauma.

Video from the scene shows huge flames and billowing smoke as hundreds of firefighters battle the blaze, which was upgraded to five-alarms. Debris and rubble could be seen scattered all over the area.

Witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion.

"I was home and then next thing you know I'm laying down and I hear this big explosion. I came out, looked up and a building was just gone," eyewitness Mack Mayor told CBS 2. "It's just like a war zone out here."

"The smoke started to rise. It looked like something fell because it wasn't like a fire. It just looked like debris smoke, similar to 9/11," said witness Samuel Paul, who was on the 15th floor of a building on 125th Street.

The exact cause of the blast is still unclear, but Con Edison said crews were responding to the area on a report of a gas odor just prior to the explosion.

"The call came in at 9:13 a.m. from a resident who reported smelling gas inside the apartment, but the resident indicated the odor may have been coming from outside the building," Con Ed spokesman Sydney Alvarez said. "Two Con Edison crews were dispatched at about 9:15 a.m. and arrived just after the explosion occurred."

Alvarez said the street is served by an eight-inch low-pressure gas main and that crews are checking gas lines and other structures for any possible leaks.

De Blasio said the "only indication of danger" came about 15 minutes before the blast.

Carmen Vargas-Rosa, who owns the church, said there was a gas odor nearby Tuesday night.

"Last night when we came out of church, at the corner outside in the street there was a smell of gas," she said. "It would come and go, so I thought it was from the corner store there so I went to the owners and told them and they said they would look into it and then we went home."

It's unclear if anyone was inside the buildings at the time of the explosion, but Vargas-Rosa said four of her tenants are unaccounted for

"One of them was off from work so most likely she was in the building," Vargas-Rosa said. "We have a mother who has a sick son, so unless they were at an appointment in the hospital, they may have been in the explosion and then we have a young man and his wife who go to school late so they may have been sleeping and we can't reach them."

The NYPD has ruled out terrorism as a cause of the explosion, but the bomb squad and the FBI are both on the scene.

Metro-North said the explosion happened adjacent to their tracks. Service in and out of Grand Central Terminal is suspended until further notice.

The bomb squad is also responding as a precaution.

Many took to Twitter and began posting pictures of smoke rising from the area.





CBS News Release

NEW YORK -- An explosion leveled two buildings Wednesday morning in East Harlem, killing at least one person and injuring more than a dozen others, CBS New York reports.

It happened around 9 a.m. at a building on Park Avenue between 114th and 117th streets, the FDNY said. One of the buildings that collapsed had a piano repair shop with apartments above. The second building housed a church.

The FDNY says so far, 16 injuries have been reported. Harlem Hospital says it received one patient with serious trauma.

It's unclear if anyone was inside the buildings at the time of the explosion. Officials believe the buildings were both 5 stories tall.

Federal officials tell CBS News early indications are that the building explosion is the result of a gas leak but this is still a developing situation.Con Edison confirms there were crews working in the area at the time of the explosion.

Video from the scene shows heavy smoke rising from the area as hundreds of firefighters battle the blaze, which has been upgraded to five-alarms. Debris and rubble could be seen scattered all over the area.

WCBS 880's Marla Diamond said thick, black smoke was enveloping the area. Police on the scene could be wearing face masks, CBS 2's Don Champion reports.

A man who was on the 15th floor of a building on 125th Street said he saw dark smoke billowing down several blocks.

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"The building shook and then we looked to see what was happening. We saw a whole lot of smoke. A lot of smoke came out," witness Samuel Paul told CBS 2. "There's a lot of dark smoke still coming out. A lot of fire engines I saw going to 125th Street."

"The smoke started to rise. It looked like something fell because it wasn't like a fire. It just looked like debris smoke, similar to 9/11," Paul added.

Metro-North said it happened in a building adjacent to the tracks. Service in and out of Grand Central Terminal is suspended until further notice.

The bomb squad is responding as a precaution.

Many took to Twitter and began posting pictures of smoke rising from the area.

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