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Deadly explosion levels New York buildings

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-13

Two buildings collapsed in New York City’s East Harlem neighbourhood on Wednesday shortly after an explosion ripped through the premises, killing at least three people, injuring more than 60 and leaving nine missing.

Three people have been confirmed dead and some 60 reported injured, while nine are still missing, according to the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Speaking at a news briefing on Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said a gas leak caused the explosion and subsequent collapse of the buildings. According to de Blasio, “a number of people” were still missing after the blast.

The incident occurred between 114th and 117th streets around 9 am local time, according to the NYPD.

Smoke rising above East Harlem

According to the local CBS station, CBS 2, one of the buildings that collapsed had a piano repair shop with apartments above. The second building housed a church.

Minutes before New York police and fire officials put out their first report notices, there were several posts on Twitter with photographs showing smoke rising from the East Harlem neighbourhood.

In an interview with CBS 2, a man who was in a building on 125th Street said he saw dark smoke billowing down several blocks.

“The building shook and then we looked to see what was happening. We saw a whole lot of smoke. A lot of smoke came out,” said Samuel Paul. “There’s a lot of dark smoke still coming out. A lot of fire engines I saw going to 125th Street.”

The bomb squad was also responding as a precaution, according to local media reports.

Train services suspended

Pavements in the Harlem neighbourhood around the building were littered with broken glass from shattered windows. Witnesses say the blast was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby shops.

The explosion occurred very close to elevated Metro-North commuter railroad tracks and train service were suspended to and from Grand Central station in downtown Manhattan.

A Google Street View image of the two buildings destroyed in the explosion, 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue in East Harlem. The ground floors of the residential buildings served as a church and a piano shop.

A resident from a building next to the two that collapsed reported that he smelled gas inside his apartment, but thought the odor could be coming from outside, a spokesman for the energy utility company, Con Edison, told reporters.

According to the Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee, the utility dispatched two crews just after 9.15 am but they arrived after the explosion.

“We're working with the FDNY [Fire Department of the City of New York] and checking gas lines,'' he said. “We're working to isolate any leaks and make the area safe.''

(FRANCE24 with AFP and AP)

Date created : 2014-03-12