East Harlem explosion, collapse leaves 8 dead, 70 hurt

Jim Dolan has the latest developments from the scene.
March 13, 2014 9:40:49 PM PDT
Federal investigators are on the scene of an explosion and two building collapses at 116th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem, while rescue crews search for those still missing.

  • The explosion happened at either 1644 or 1646 Park Avenue around 9:30 a.m.
  • Both buildings collapsed down to the first floor, littering the area with debris
  • At least eight people are dead and 70 others injured, at least two of them critically
  • Rescue workers are searching for any other victims, with several occupants of the buildings still unaccounted for
  • A team of NTSB experts has arrived to investigate the cause of the explosion

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    One of the victims was identified as 44-year-old Griselde Camacho, a public safety sergeant at Hunter College. The second victim was identified as 67-year-old Carmen Tanco, who lived on the second floor of one of the buildings. Rosaura Hernandez-Barrios, 21, was killed. In addition,Andreas Panagopoulos, 42, Alexis Salas, 22, Rosaura Barrios, 44, George Amadeo, 44 were identified on Thursday.

    At least 70 other people are injured, at least two of them critically, including a 15-year-old boy. Harlem Hospital reports it has 13 patients, and Mount Sinai received 26 patients, including three children.

    Metropolitan Hospital has 18 patients, and New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center has at least two. At least 27 people were treated and released.

    The injured include two FBI agents who were in the vicinity on an unrelated matter and an off-duty NYPD officer who lives nearby.

    Heavy equipment, including back hoes and a bulldozer, arrived to clear the mountain of debris where the buildings stood, and the FDNY was still trying to extinguish pockets of fire at the scene.

    At a press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said authorities were still trying to locate those missing and urged those concerned for their loved ones to call 311.

    "There's a tremendous amount of anxiety, but suffice it to say, every effort is being made to locate these individuals," de Blasio said. He added, "This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people."

    The preliminary cause is attributed to gas, and Con Edison confirms that it was responding to a report of a gas odor in the area just before the explosion occurred. The call came in at 9:13 a.m. from a resident who indicated the odor may have been coming from outside the building.

    Two Con Edison crews were dispatched at 9:15 a.m. and arrived just after the explosion occurred. The street is served by an 8-inch low-pressure gas main that fed both buildings.

    All electric and gas service was shut down between East 116th and East 117th Streets on the west side of Park Avenue, as well as on the north side of East 116th Street near Park Avenue. In a statement, Con Edison said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, and friends of the victims, to all who have been involved, and to all who are affected."

    A resident of one of the collapsed buildings, Ruben Borrero, said residents had complained to the landlord for weeks about the smell of gas, as recently as Tuesday. Con Ed says it received no gas complaints from the building before Wednesday. The Fire Department said it was checking its records for any gas complaints at the building.

    A team of NTSB experts arrived on the scene Wednesday evening to begin their investigation. "We will be looking at Con Ed's integrity management system, to see how they handled complaints reporting odors of gas," said NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt. "We will look for any evidence of third party damage by digging."

    Sumwalt said the NTSB will be examining the pipeline that distributes natural gas to the area.

    East Harlem residents reported hearing a large explosion in the five-story building around 9:30 a.m. The address is either 1644 or 1646 Park Avenue, both of which have businesses on ground floor and apartments above. 1644 has six residential units, while 1646 has nine units.

    Both structures collapsed to the first floor, and neighboring buildings were also damaged. Firefighters spent several hours battling the resulting five-alarm fire.

    Smoke poured from the top of the buildings, and huge amounts of debris littered the surrounding sidewalks and elevated tracks in the area.

    The heavy smoke lasted for hours and could be seen for miles. The city's Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring air quality in the surrounding area.

    Surrounding buildings in the area were evacuated, but the Buildings Department said the blast did not affect the structural integrity of other buildings.

    Con Ed said it remains to be seen whether the leak was in a company main or in customer-installed inside plumbing. The gas main that serves the area was made of plastic and cast iron, and the iron dated to 1887, Con Ed senior vice president Edward Foppiano said.

    Spanish Christian Church is on the ground floor at 1644, with Absolute Piano at 1646. The Spanish Christian Church has been at the location for decades.

    The Red Cross has set up a relief center is PS 57, at 176 E. 115th Street. Food, water and a safe place is available for those affected. Mental health counseling is also being provided.

    About 100 displaced people arrived at the school, and dozens more were inquiring about the whereabouts of family members.

    Metro-North Railroad restored all service to and from Grand Central Terminal that was suspended after the explosion.

    New Haven and Harlem line service was restored earlier in the afternoon, and Hudson Line service was restored as additional tracks reopened.

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