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Harlem Blast Leaves 9 Missing, 7 Dead, More than 60 Injured

Mar 13, 2014

A fatal building explosion in Harlem, New York, has left nine people missing, seven dead, and more than 60 injured. Rescuers continue their search.

The northern Manhattan explosion led to a 5-alarm fire and building collapses, according to FoxNews. Late yesterday, crews pulled the bodies of four people from what was left of the building, raising the number of dead to seven.

"This is a difficult job, a challenging job," Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said, adding that the entire situation was "a very terrible and traumatic scene," according to FoxNews. Adding to challenges, which delayed workers from accessing the space was a sinkhole created by a sub-surface water main break. Temperatures dropped into the 20s, further hampering efforts; rain worsened the conditions, wrote FoxNews.

The explosion occurred at 9:30 yesterday morning, some 15 minutes after a nearby resident reported a gas smell, according to authorities. Con Edison, the city’s electric utility indicated that it sent workers, but they arrived after the blast, FoxNews reported.

The explosion was so intense that windows were shattered a block away and debris rained down on area elevated commuter rail lines. A plume of smoke was visible over the skyline. "I saw the building fall. It just fell down. I thought it was a bomb," African Market owner Magatte Samb told The New York Post. "I felt like I was going to die,” according to FoxNews.

Hunter College identified one victim as Griselde Camacho, 45, a security officer who worked at the college. Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist and Rosaura Hernandez-Barrios, 21, were also among the dead. The other four bodies have not yet been identified; however, one man was pulled from the wreckage after midnight, a woman was discovered at 2:50 this morning, and another man was found just after, FoxNews reported. According to Fire Department spokesman Danny Glover, the gender of the seventh person, who was pulled from the site this morning at about 7:30 a.m., was not known. The injured included at least three children and one of those children, a boy, 15, was listed in critical condition with burns, injuries, and broken bones, according to FoxNews.

One tenant, Ruben Borrero, who lived in one of the collapsed buildings, told FoxNews that residents complained to the landlord about the gas smell as recently as Tuesday. A few weeks ago, said Borrero, city fire officials were also called about the smell, which was so intense that one of the top floor tenants broke open a roof to the door to bring in fresh air. "It was unbearable," said Borrero.

Although an official cause has not yet been determined, authorities believe a gas leak was to blame for the explosion that flattened the two five-story apartment buildings, according to CNN, which reported that two of the survivors suffered what were described as life-threatening injuries. The buildings also housed a piano store and an evangelical church.

“This is a tragedy of the worst kind,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “because there was no indication in time to save people,” he added, CNN reported. Con Ed senior vice president of gas operations said that the blast was being treated as a gas leak, although there was no evidence of a leak at that point. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the agency that investigates pipeline explosions, reported it was deploying investigators to New York, CNN reported.

Foppiano said that a routine service check did not detect gas leaks on February 28; however, one of the buildings did have a gas leak last May, which was repaired in June, according to CNN. Last year, one of the now-collapsed buildings received a city permit for installation of 120 feet of gas piping; the work was completed in June. Meanwhile, in 2008, the owners of the other collapsed building were fined for not maintaining vertical cracks in the rear of building. That condition was not reported as corrected to the buildings department, according to CNN. Building department records detail a list of violations that go back decades on one of the buildings.

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