Three dead, 63 hurt as New York buildings collapse
NEW YORK - Agence France-Presse
Firefighters respond to a fire on 116th Street in Harlem after a building exploded in huge flames and billowing black smoke, leading to the collapse of at least one building and several injuries, Wednesday, March 12, 2014, in New York. AP PhotoA major explosion caused by a gas leak flattened two Manhattan apartment buildings in a fireball March 12, killing three people and injuring 63 others.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident "a tragedy of the worst kind" and his office said nine residents from the two collapsed buildings were still unaccounted for by nightfall.
Firefighters battled throughout the afternoon to extinguish the heavy fire in East Harlem, where witnesses compared the scene of twisted metal, thick white smoke and dusty rubble to a war zone.
The explosion sparked inevitable reminders for some New Yorkers of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 that brought down the Twin Towers. Other witnesses said it felt like an earthquake.
There were 15 apartments in the two buildings that collapsed, de Blasio and city officials told reporters near the scene at 116th Street and Park Avenue, a mainly Latino community.
Around 15 minutes before the blast, energy company Con Edison received a call from an adjoining apartment building alerting maintenance staff to the smell of gas.
The explosion struck around 9:30 a.m. local times and the New York Fire Department said firefighters were on the scene two minutes later.
"There was a major explosion that destroyed two buildings. The explosion was based on a gas leak," de Blasio said.
It was the first deadly disaster of its kind to strike the city of eight million since the Democrat took office in January and will raise concerns about safety in less affluent neighborhoods.
"There is a tremendous amount of anxiety, but suffice it to say that every effort is being expended to locate each and every one of these (missing) individuals," the mayor said.
The death toll rose to three as dusk fell, a spokesman for New York Fire Department told AFP.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry said two women who were among the dead were Mexicans, along with one of those injured.
Four different hospitals told AFP they treated a total of 63 patients, the vast majority with minor injuries.
Hundreds of police and more than 250 firefighters were on site with emergency trucks, as a dense column of smoke spewed into the sky over the Metro-North railway line.
The blast forced the suspension of train services in and out of Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan for part of the day.