On Wednesday morning, at least two people died and more than 60 left injured after two buildings collapsed in East Harlem after a massive explosion. The buildings, which collapsed around 9:30 a.m., were located at 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue, between 116th and 117th streets.
Emergency crews and firemen from across New York City rushed to the scene as a large plume of dark smoke fanned across the city following the incident, which happened just as the morning rush hour was coming to an end.
Authorities identified the women who died in the blast as Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist, Griselde Camacho, 44, a sergeant with Hunter College’s school safety patrol and Rosaura Hernandez-Barrios, 21. The name and age of the man, who was found early Thursday, were not released.
Jennifer Raab, the president of Hunter College, released a statement confirming the news. Camacho had worked at Hunter since 2008 and was stationed in the Silberman School of Social Work, according to Newsday.
The explosion blew out windows in surrounding buildings and sent debris crashing onto nearby streets. People were trapped in their cars, in the rubble and in neighboring apartments. Others rushed toward the towering plume of flames and smoke, making desperate rescue attempts.
“We saw people flying out of the windows,” said Ashley Rivera, 21, as she held back tears. “Those are my neighbors.”
Robert Paulin, 56 years old, who works in data processing at nearby Columbia University, said his apartment, five blocks away, shook when the explosion happened.
“I just came running over and saw nothing was left,” he said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference that the explosion was caused by a gas leak. In a statement to the New York Daily News, Con Edison confirmed that neighbors called in to complain about the smell of gas just 18 minutes before the explosion. The Fire Department received a call around 9:30 a.m. and arrived two minutes later, the mayor said. The department had 44 units and 250 personnel on the scene, officials said.
The mayor described the incident as “a tragedy of the worst kind,” saying a number of people were still unaccounted for as firefighters battled to extinguish a subsequent blaze in East Harlem.
He said 15 residential apartments, six in one building and nine in the other, had been destroyed. One of the buildings contained a piano shop on the ground floor, and the other one housed a small church.
Mr. de Blasio said: “There was no indication in time to save people. We know we have lost two people already [a third and fourth fatality was later confirmed]. There is a tremendous amount of anxiety but, suffice it to say, that every effort is being expended to locate each and every one of these missing individuals.”
The injured were taken to several area hospitals; most were treated and released. Officials said 13 people went to Harlem Hospital Center, including a 15-year-old boy in critical condition; 22 people at Mount Sinai Hospital, including a woman in critical condition with head trauma; and 18 at Metropolitan Hospital Center, all with minor injuries, reports the NY Times.
Nine people who lived in apartments above the Spanish Christian Church are still listed as missing, authorities said.