Cause not yet known, investigators say
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City apartment building has exploded in huge flames and billowing black smoke, leading to the collapse of at least one building and killing at least two people.
The New York City Fire Department says 15 people were treated for minor injuries at the scene. Another person with serious trauma was transported to Harlem Hospital.
The New York Police Department confirmed to The Associated Press one person died in the explosion. It was unclear if that was the same person taken to Harlem Hospital.
Residents heard a large explosion near Park Avenue and 116th Street in East Harlem around 9 a.m. Wednesday. One five-story building was reduced to rubble, and a second building also is heavily damaged.
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.
The site is next to Metro-North commuter railroad tracks. Train service is halted to and from Grand Central Terminal.
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.
A neighboring building was severely damaged. The cause of the blast was unclear.
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.
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 explosion occurred very close to elevated Metro-North commuter railroad tracks. Metro-North service was suspended to and from Grand Central on all three train lines while employees remove debris from the tracks.
The fire department said it sent nearly 170 members to the scene.