According to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Edward Foppiano, Con Ed’s senior vice president of gas operations, a March 2014 explosion that destroyed two East Harlem apartment buildings was likely caused by a gas leak. The blast, which leveled two 5-story buildings on Park Avenue and East 116th Street, killed seven people and injured 63 others; two of the injured people suffered life-threatening injuries.
Con Ed spokesperson Bob McGee said that the utility received a call at 9:13 a.m. about a possible gas leak at the buildings. While crews were dispatched two minutes later to investigate the leak, they arrived on the scene immediately after the explosion, which occurred at 9:31 a.m.
Mayor de Blasio remarked at a press conference, “This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people.”
According to Con Ed’s records, workers performed a routine check and maintenance of the buildings’ gas lines on February 28, 2013 and did not detect any problems. One of the buildings had a gas leak in May 2013, and it was fixed the following month. A spokesperson for the Building Department pointed out that one of the buildings obtained a city permit to install 120 feet of gas piping which was installed in June 2013. However, city records revealed that one of the buildings had received a long list of violations going back decades. The building was cited for lacking smoke detectors, having blocked fire escapes and broken lighting fixtures. In 2008, the building received a fine for not repairing and maintaining vertical cracks in the rear of the structure.
As firefighters sifted through a two-story pile of rubble, and as utility workers tore up pavement to shut off gas lines, one of the buildings’ residents, who only identified herself as Angelica, told reporters about her experience during the explosion. She said, “I heard a big explosion. I didn’t know what was going on…my neighbors came banging on my door, telling me to get out. I guess they were evacuating the building. And I couldn’t get out. My door was jammed. Everything on my windowsill fell. I guess the impact of the explosion jammed the door as well.”
While 200 firefighters responded to the scene, Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassona stated that the emergency workers barely missed the explosion. He said, “If we were here five minutes earlier we may have had some fatalities among firefighters. Not being here may have saved some lives.”
Mayor de Blasio said that crews were working hard to find survivors. He stated, “We’re expending every effort to locate each and every loved one. Hopefully we’ll find that some of them are in other parts of the city and have just not been located yet.”
Members of the National Transportation Board, which investigates gas pipe explosions, were dispatched to New York to assist with the investigation.
Website Resource: Nine still missing after Manhattan explosion leaves at least 4 dead, 63 hurt, CNN, Rey Sanchez, March 13, 2014
Death toll rises to 7 in Harlem gas leak explosion, USA Today, Melanie Eversley and Doug Stanglin, March 13, 2014