At 9:31 am EST, New York City firefighters responded to an explosion and building collapse at 1644-46 Park Avenue in East Harlem. Thus far, two people been reported dead, with at least 16 more suffering from injuries.
Prior to the explosion, Con Edison, a New York City utility service, had received a call from a resident at 1652 Park Avenue complaining of a gas smell in her apartment. That call came 18 minutes before the two buildings collapsed.
The five-story buildings held a church and a piano repair shop on the ground levels and hosted 12 total apartments.
Jennifer Salas, a 20-year-old resident of the apartment, saw warning signs as early as yesterday: “Last night it smelled like gas but then the smell vanished and we all went to sleep. We tried to find the source of the gas but since the smell left, we all went to sleep.” Salas's husband is currently still missing.
As it currently stands, the 150+ firefighters who responded from 39 different units are still working to extinguish the flames and excavate the destruction to look for residents and patrons.
— Lance Ulanoff (@LanceUlanoff) March 12, 2014
Residents of East Harlem who witnessed the collapse were shocked at the impact of the explosion: "I saw a lady running with no shoes on. It was crazy. It was like a war zone. ... I thought it was an earthquake. I got calls from my family who felt it too and that was all the way up town," reported one witness.
"It was loud, like boom, boom! It rocked the whole block. A window blew out of the other shop down the street. It looked like the towers all over again. People covered in dust and covering their mouths," added Mitch Abreu, an employee at a nearby barbershop.
The two buildings which collapsed have been plagued by many infrastructure issues over the years. Last summer, the building at 1644 Park Avenue was scheduled to have a 120 foot piece of gas pipe installed to a fifth floor stove. Officials at New York heating could not confirm if that work had been completed.
The other building at 1646 Park Avenue was cited several years ago for having a vertical crack in the rear wall “which is hazardous to the safety of the structure.” The owner of the building at the time of the citation paid the $1,335 fine, but there are no records to indicate that the structure of the building was ever repaired.
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