A gas explosion in East Harlem Tuesday morning destroyed two buildings and sparked a five-alarm fire which FDNY officials continued battling into the afternoon. The MTA was forced to suspend Metro-North service inbound and outbound of Grand Central as a result, with some debris falling onto the elevated tracks.
According to official reports, the NYPD has declared two women dead and 22 injured in the blast, which happened at E. 116th Street and Park Avenue around 9:31 a.m. Around 9-12 people remain missing in the aftermath, which caused police to cordon off sections of E. 115th and E. 116th Streets between Park and Lexington Avenues.
Watch video of the explosion’s aftermath here:
Witnesses and local residents described the impact as almost earthquake-like. “It shook the buildings,” said Lionel, who lives near the area at E. 117th and Park. “I woke up out of my sleep, came outside. A lot of smoke was out here. Everybody had masks on. A lot of fire was going on. It’s crazy how that happened-early morning, you know?”
Margarita Tirado, who lives on E. 100th Street and Park, was taking a bath when the explosion happened. “I hear something, ‘Boom!'” she said. “But I [paid] no mind because in the street, there’s a lot of noise.”
After Tirado’s daughter and friend called to check on her, she headed downstairs to see what had happened. She soon discovered that a friend’s wife-who lived with him in one of the collapsed buildings-was not. “My friend who works in [NYCHA] housing, his wife is missing,” she revealed. The husband was at work during the incident and has yet to regain contact with his wife, Tirado added.
“It was like a booming sound,” commented Gregory, who was forced to remain outside as officials told him he couldn’t re-enter his building for 4-6 hours. “I thought it was a truck or something hitting an area, then I came back down the street, went back up there and I saw a building down. Then I saw people panicky and I moved some away.”
Having remained outside since morning, Gregory noted that the fire has become more controlled “in some ways,” though more work needed to be done.
Speaking at the scene, Mayor De Blasio said, “It’s a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people. ”
Residents of a building next to the site reported smelling gas at 9:13, shortly before the explosion happened. Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano said it will take some time before the blast’s source can be determined.
UPDATE: 7:35 A.M. EST: The NYPD rose the explosion’s death toll to seven people Thursday morning. The Daily News has marked 54 people injured from the blast. Eight people remain missing.