Deadly Explosion Forcing Harlem Residents to Streets

March 12, 2014 1:36 pm Last Updated: March 13, 2014 5:48 am

NEW YORK—A gas explosion killing 2 and injuring 18 in East Harlem leveled two buildings on 116th and Park Ave. Residents from nearby buildings rushed out of their homes in shock, lucky to grab some essentials.

Hours after the explosion, residents from the neighboring buildings were scattered along the nearby streets, visibly in shock and unable to return home. “I don’t think that we’re going back in the building today,” said Anna Petances. She lives just next door, on the 117th Street.

Rosario Vaolverbe lives on the corner of 117th and Park Ave. She just stepped in her kitchen at 9:30 a.m., when she heard the explosion. She returned to her room and saw the window shattered. “Thank God I went to the kitchen, otherwise my face would have been all blown out by the glass,” she said.

Vaolverbe just grabbed a coat and her dog Yankee and ran out, barefoot. “I didn’t know if the building’s going to come down,” she said. Later, somebody gave her socks and shoes.

When she came out of the building, other people were already gathering on the street to see what happened. When Vaolverbe saw the ruins are on fire, she figured it was better to leave. “I said, if there’s gas, it’s going to explode.”

She ran two blocks. Stopping on the corner of 116th and Madison, she sat for hours staring at the smoke-filed street.

Two hours later she was able to relax a little and give a way to emotions. She had tears in her eyes, little Yankee shaking by her leg. “Now I feel a little better, so that’s why it’s coming all out,” she said.

For the time being, Vaolverbe will stay at her mother’s house.

The Red Cross has set up a center to accept anyone in need of help at the P.S. 57, a school at 113th Street between Third and Lexington Ave. So far about 100 people registered at center. All displaced persons will be provided with alternative shelters, according to Michael de Vulpillieres from the Red Cross.

During his on-site press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the Fire Department for “extraordinary fast, precise response.”

Gas leak was reported to Con Edison at 9:13. Before their team got to the site, the explosion happened. Fire Department got call at 9:31, after the explosion, and their first team arrived at 9:33, immediately calling for a backup.

Con Edison workers started to cut off gas pipes leading to the location, but the work took long, as it is “detailed and complicated process,” the Mayor said. Workers were drilling the road in front of the buildings, possibly to reach the gas pipes.

The Mayor said the fire should be put out “in the coming hours.”