Gas Leak Suspected in Massive East Harlem Blast That Killed at Least 2

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 12 2014 12:45 PM

Gas Leak Suspected in Massive East Harlem Blast That Killed at Least 2

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Heavy smoke pours from the debris as firefighters respond to a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan on March 12, 2014

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

New York firefighters and first-responders are currently on the scene at a five-alarm fire in upper Manhattan/East Harlem, where two multi-use buildings in a residential area were largely leveled by what is believed to have been a massive gas explosion this morning.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

As of early Wednesday afternoon, the official casualty count stood at two dead and 18 injured, figures that are likely to climb before all is said and done given the scope of the damage and the number of people not yet accounted for. "This is an occupied building, there were people living there, we have people missing," an unidentified senior FDNY official told the New York Times. "There was a complete collapse; the fire is still going so we can’t make a search. There will be fatalities."

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The images currently coming in from news helicopters and via social media are showing heavy smoke still coming from where the buildings once stood. The structure at 1644 Park Ave is more or less completely gone, while the one at 1646 was also severely damaged in the blast.

Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee told NY1 that someone in the neighborhood called at 9:13 a.m. to report smelling gas, and that the explosion is believed to have happened at 9:31 a.m. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials have suggested that all of the early indications are that it was indeed a gas leak that led to the explosion. "This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people," de Blasio said at a news conference this afternoon. ABC News, meanwhile, reports that the FBI is on the scene but only as a precaution, and that there is "currently no indication of terror or crime."

The two buildings had ground-level storefronts—one housed a Christian church, the other a piano repair shop—with four or five floors of apartments above.

We'll continue to update with more information as it becomes available, although it will likely be some time before firefighters have the blaze under control and are able to search what is left of the two buildings.

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