Dozens homeless after East Harlem buildings destroyed

N.J. Burkett reports
March 13, 2014 2:52:22 PM PDT
At least 100 people have been left homeless after the explosion that destroyed two buildings in East Harlem Wednesday.

"We're expecting more people coming in... a lot of the windows were blown-out," said the Rev. Vernon Williams, of Perfect Peace Ministry of Harlem.

More than 60 people who lived in or near the two collapsed structures were temporarily relocated to nearby P.S. 57, where a Red Cross staging area was set up. They have since been sent to the Salvation Army, and Thursday morning, volunteers provided fresh supplies like food, blankets and pillows.

Although the explosion did not destroy the adjacent buildings, some apartments are now uninhabitable.

"It's a very scary," said Eileen LaPuma, a displaced resident.

The uncertainty is unbearable and the waiting makes it worse.

"Most people think, 'I'm home, I'm safe.' But not really," said David Mendoza, 16, another displaced resident.

Families who ran from their homes after the explosion, wonder what they'll find if and when they can return home.

"We're real concerned about it. My whole livelihood is in that apartment," said Olufemi Williams.

She and her daughter have the clothes on their backs, a pillow under their arms, and thankfully a place to go.

Their apartment building near the explosion site is off limits. "Well, basically we're going to stay at my sister's house," said Williams.

New York City Police Department community affairs officers are helping family members track down missing relatives. Food, shelter and counseling are available, regardless of immigration status.

"Many are trying to track down loved ones. Some have lost loved ones. Others are wondering what their next step is in terms of where they'll live or what's happened to their pets," said Josh Lockwood, of the American Red Cross.

An emotional Elizabeth Alvarez said her building, which was connected to one of the buildings that exploded, has been condemned.

"Material stuff, I don't care. My kids are fine. It's my cat and what's going to happen going forward," said Alvarez.

City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spoke with residents.

"I was just here to let people know we're concerned, we're watching, and making sure everything is going smoothly," Mark-Viverito said.

For many, the ordeal has been unimaginable.

"They've lost everything," said the Rev. William Devlin, of Infinity Bible Church of The Bronx.