Twelve hurt in New York buildings collapse, blaze
NEW YORK - Agence France-Presse
Firefighters battle a fire at the site of a residential apartment building collapse and fire in New York City's East Village neighborhood, March 26, 2015. REUTERS PhotoTwelve people were hurt when two New York buildings collapsed and a blaze tore through neighboring properties Thursday in what preliminary indications suggested was a gas-related explosion.
Four were in a critical condition after the blast flung the front of commercial and residential property at 121 Second Avenue across the street in the popular East Village, the fire department said, triggering the collapse of the next-door building and a huge blaze.
The cause of the incident was under investigation but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the initial impact appeared to have been caused by plumbing and gas work at the site.
Witnesses several blocks away described hearing a loud bang and thick smoke could be seen high over the Manhattan skyline.
"It was crazy loud. The windows were shaking," said Philip McElroy, a 23-year-old student, who was visiting a friend two blocks away.
"There was a lot of smoke and part of the building was blown out."
The incident quickly heightened safety fears, a year after eight people were killed when a gas explosion leveled two apartment buildings in East Harlem in northern Manhattan on March 12, 2014.
"At this moment we know of 12 individuals who are injured, three of them who are in critical condition," de Blasio said, as the fire department raised the number of critically injured to four.
"Our thoughts, our prayers are with everyone of them and of course we are praying that no other individuals are found injured and that there are no fatalities."
The fire department said 123 Second Avenue collapsed entirely and 121 partially, and that two other buildings were also damaged.
Pommes Frites, a shop selling Belgian-style fries, was located at 123 Second Avenue, according to its website.
A gaping hole, where once a commercial and residential building stood, was engulfed in thick smoke and reduced to debris, showed a photograph posted on Twitter by the New York Fire Department.
The Red Cross set up an emergency site in a school to support those made homeless, as well as neighbors and family members, de Blasio told a news conference.
More than 250 fire fighters were still battling to control a large blaze at neighboring properties.
Thick smoke filled the street and emergency workers shut down six blocks on Second Avenue, said an AFP reporter at the scene.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said staff were on the spot three minutes after the 3:17 pm emergency call.
The front of 121 Second Avenue was blown across the street and fire officers performed "extremely dangerous" searches of 123 and 121, he said.
Nigro said officers were still battling a blaze at 119 Second Avenue and said it was also in danger of possibly falling down.
"I was really scared," said 19-year-old Isaiah Barr, who was listening to music at home several blocks away when he felt a boom.
The smell of burning drifted as far as Midtown Manhattan, around 40 blocks farther north.
Authorities advised New Yorkers to stay at home and keep their windows closed to avoid the affects of smoke inhalation.
The East Village is one of the most popular areas of New York, home to a large number of students and wealthy professionals, and stuffed with boutiques, restaurants, nightclubs and cafes.
De Blasio urged people not to speculate until the investigation had been completed but reminded New York's 8.4 million residents to act quickly if they smell gas.
He said there was no indication that anyone had telephoned about a gas leak just before the explosion.
"I will take this occasion to say, as we said many times after the East Harlem tragedy, any time you smell gas you need to call 911 or call (energy company) Con Edison immediately," he said.
Of those critically injured, two have burns to their airways and a third person fell unconscious after the blast, officials said.