Building Explosion In Harlem

article-0-1C3ABCCC00000578-234_634x504Residents are feared trapped in a Manhattan apartment building that exploded this morning in the East Harlem neighborhood, killing two women and injuring around 17 others. 

A gas leak is suspected of causing the building on the corner of 116th Street and Park Avenue to burst into flames, as residents reported smelling a strange odor to ConEdison right before the blast.

Those in the area reported hearing a loud boom and thick black smoke in the area a little after 9am, and some were even evacuated.

A spokesperson for ConEd told NBC4 that at 9:13am they received a call from a resident at neighboring 1652 Park Avenue saying she smelled gas in the bedroom of her apartment.

‘She indicated that the odor may have been coming from the outside of the building,’ he said.

The company dispatched a crew two minutes later but they got there just moments after the explosion, he said.

Mount Sinai and Harlem hospitals have received 16 injured in the explosion so far, with one patient being treated for serious head trauma.

At least one man was seen being rescued from the building, and was led away from the scene on a stretcher.

James DeJesus lives on the same block as the building that exploded, and took a dramatic photo that shows the damage after the blast.

DeJesus and his family live at 89 East 116th street and the blast was so strong, he first assumed the fire was in his building. article-0-1C3A9E3700000578-24_634x367

‘We were all sleeping when it happened. I looked out my window and saw debris, smoke and people panicking and screaming,’ DeJesus told MailOnline.

He says he and other residents had been smelling a faint gas odor in the days leading up to the explosion.

However, ConEd spokesman Elizabeth Matthews told PIX that the only complaint they have on file is the call that came in at 9:13am.

Matthews says they take odor complaints ‘very seriously’ and a crew was dispatched just two minutes after receiving the call.

Matthews says ConEd is working with firefighters and have the leak under control. She says residents in the area shouldn’t worry about another blast.

Denise Ortiz was nearby when she heard the explosion, and described a gruesome scene to NBC 4.

‘People who were living in the building, they flew out when the blast hit,’  Ortiz said. ‘It knocked everyone into the debris.’

She added that she initially worried the Metro North had been targeted in an attack.

‘It sounded like a bomb went off,’ she told NBC 4. ‘Everyone started screaming, “They blew up the Metro North!” But when we ran over there , we saw a building had collapsed and it was not the Metro North.’

Police say the explosion was definitely not a terrorist attack.

Relatives of the building’s residents gathered in the streets below, pleading for help about their loved ones.

‘My brother lives there, and I can’t get through!’ one unidentified woman sobbed as she spoke to NBC4. ‘They’re telling me I can’t get through!’

‘My daughter!’ another cried as she put her hand to her mouth. ‘I wanna know if she’s down. Please help me – help me please!’

A woman who lives in a building just a block away says she was sleeping when she heard the explosion and  the blast rocked her building.

‘I was basically sleeping and my whole wall shook, my whole room was shaking and it basically blew my window up. It opened up,’ the woman told PIX11. ‘My lights and my stuff on my dresser fell off. I thought it was a bomb.’

The five-story building is located 1644-1646 Park Avenue and houses a Spanish Christian Church on the bottom floor.

One witness said that the explosion knocked groceries off shelves at a nearby supermarket, while NBC4’s Jonathan Vigliotti reported from the scene that numerous stores had had their windows blown out.

‘There are about 10 store fronts, half of them have their windows blown out,’ he said. ‘It’s really hard to even see through [the smoke]. The entire area Cops everywhere, fire fighters everywhere.’

Another witness told NBC4 that she saw people running towards the building to help anyone who was hurt.article-0-1C3A8A0B00000578-568_634x420

‘It was chaos,’ she said.

Metro-North Railway has elevated tracks right next to the west of the building, and the New Haven line in and out of the city through Grand Central Terminal have been temporarily suspended.

Passengers reported being ordered off the train and onto the platform at the nearby 125th Street station.

The smoke was so thick that reporters covering the explosion from news helicopters were at one point ordered out of the area.

FBI officials are on the scene investigating the blast.

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Source: Ashley Collman for Daily Mail

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