At Least Six Killed in East Harlem Gas Leak Blast


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At least six people are dead after an explosion reportedly due to a gas leak at 1644-46 Park Avenue in East Harlem Wednesday morning.

Con Edison received a call at 9:13 a.m. Wednesday from a resident at 1652 Park Avenue about the detectable smell of gas that had strengthened since the night before, surrounding two buildings by 116th Street and Park Avenue. The call was placed 18 minutes before the two buildings collapsed.

The blast, which city officials said was caused by a gas leak, killed at least six people and wounded at least 27 more. Rescue workers continued to search the rubble into the night. Nine occupants of the buildings were still missing as of late Wednesday.

The five-story buildings stood 55-feet tall and held a church and a piano repair shop on the ground levels, as well as a total of 15 apartments, according to Building Department records.

The explosion blew out windows in surrounding buildings and sent debris crashing onto nearby streets. People were trapped in the rubble, in neighboring apartments, and in their cars. Individuals rushed towards the buildings, making rescue attempts.

There was little warning, and not enough to safely evacuate the area, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference near where the buildings once stood.

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

Those injured were taken to several area hospitals, where most were treated and released. Officials said 13 people went to Harlem Hospital Center, including a 15-year-old boy in critical condition; 22 people to Mount Sinai Hospital, including a woman in critical condition with head trauma; and 18 at Metropolitan Hospital Center, all with minor injuries.

Approximately 250 firefighters from 44 units responded to the blast. They used heavy equipment to clear destroyed vehicles outside the buildings. Firefighters sifted through debris brick by brick, and by late afternoon were seen handing off buckets of debris to clear the site. Remaining hot spots in the debris, cold weather and winds Wednesday night continued to limit rescue efforts.

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board, which oversees pipeline safety, arrived to help investigate the reason for the gas leak. The cause remained unclear Wednesday night.

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