NEW YORK – An explosion has leveled two New York City apartment buildings, killing one person and injuring 16 others. A utility company says a resident in a nearby building reported smelling gas shortly before the explosion.
The New York Police Department confirm one person died in the East Harlem blast. No other information is available.
Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee says a resident from a building adjacent to the two that collapsed reported that he smelled gas inside his apartment, but thought the odor could be coming from outside.
McGee says the utility dispatched two crews just after 9:15 a.m., but they arrived just after the explosion. He says the street is served by an eight-inch low-pressure gas main. He would not speculate on whether a gas leak caused the explosion.
The New York City fire department says 15 people were treated for minor injuries at the scene. One person with “serious trauma” was being treated at Harlem Hospital, and the hospital was expecting more injured people to arrive, said Lamarr Nelson, a hospital spokesman.
Residents heard a large explosion near Park Avenue and 116th Street in East Harlem around 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Sidewalks for blocks around are littered with broken glass from shattered storefront and apartment windows. Witnesses say the blast was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby stores. 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.
The site is next to Metro-North commuter railroad tracks. Train service is halted to and from Grand Central Terminal.
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 fire department said it sent nearly 170 members to the scene.
— FDNY (@FDNY) March 12, 2014
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.