Mayor de Blasio Press Conference Transcript, Photos at East Harlem Building Explosion

By Kristina Skorbach, Epoch Times
March 12, 2014 Updated: March 13, 2014



Mayor de Blasio: I’d like to speak about the tragedy that unfolded this morning. There’s a lot to tell you about what’s going on, about the extraordinary response by our first responders. But first, let me tell you were – I’m going to give you a quick overview. We’re then going to hear from our fire commissioner Sal Cassano. We’re going to hear from Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents this district in the City Council. With us are other key leaders of our response who will join in for the Q & A – Commissioner Bill Bratton and Chief Phil Banks of the NYPD, Joe Bruno of OEM, Tom Fariello the acting buildings commissioner, also would like to welcome John McAvoy, the president and CEO of Con Edison who is with us. And thank Council Member Inez Dickens for being here. And we have representatives of Congressman Rangel’s office as well. So today at approximately 9:30 am, there was a major explosion that destroyed two buildings – the explosion was based on a gas leak. The impact affected buildings around the two that were destroyed – very heavy impact on the surrounding buildings. A heavy fire has ensued as well. The fire is now up to a five-alarm level of response and FDNY is continuing its efforts to contain the fire, and then in the coming hours to finally put the fire out. There was no warning in advance.


From the information we have now – I’d like to emphasize, everything I’m telling you is based on preliminary information, which is the best information we have at this moment and is by definition preliminary – but from what we know now, the only indication of danger came about 15 minutes earlier, when a gas leak was reported to Con Edison. Con Ed dispatched a team immediately to respond. The explosion occurred before that team could arrive. As soon as the explosion was called in, FDNY responded literally within two minutes of the call for help. FDNY is now, again, in the process of putting out the fire. Con Ed is in the process of shutting down all gas mains going into this building. But that is a detailed and complicated process that requires digging up the ground and a lot of manual labor to turn off all the different supplies of gas to the building. This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people. We know we’ve lost two people already. We know at this moment – preliminarily – that 18 are injured. Different levels of injury. We also know that there will be a search through the rubble of the building as soon as the fire is put out, looking for those who are missing. There are a number of missing individuals. I emphasize that those who are missing could well be safe in another location and just not contacted yet or reachable yet. But there are a number of missing individuals and there’s going to be a thorough search to try and find or locate each individual.


This is going to be an extended operation. It will take quite a bit of time to fully address this issue. To achieve that, we have on the scene 250 firefighters and dozens of pieces of equipment including heavy equipment necessary to deal with the rubble from the building. I want to say that once again we have been shown what our first responders are capable of doing under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. All of the agencies that responded – led by the FDNY – immediately secured the situation and the surrounding buildings, checked these surrounding buildings, made sure that everyone in those buildings was safe, made sure the fire was not spreading to other buildings. Extraordinary, fast, precise response by our first responders. I want to thank the police, OEM, everyone who’s been a part of this operation already. We have a lot of people in this community right now deeply concerned, a lot of people who have been negatively affected  in their buildings surrounding [inaudible] from the two that collapsed wondering where their loved ones are. Speaker Mark-Viverito is talking to a number of families. I’ve spoken to the pastor of the church that was one of the storefronts in these buildings. There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety, but suffice it to say that every effort is being expended to locate each and every one of these individuals. Finally, for any relatives who are looking for information about their loved ones, a special hotline will be set up shortly but for now they can call 3-1-1. So for relatives, family members looking for information about loved ones who might have been in either of these buildings, they can call 3-1-1. Calls will be taken in both English and Spanish. With that, let me bring forward Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano to give you more details of the situation and the response. 


Commissioner Sal Cassano, FDNY: Thank you, Mayor. Just to reiterate a little bit what the mayor said – the call originally came in at 9:31 and we had our first unit on the scene at 9:33. They were faced with a very heavy fire condition. Two buildings collapsed, debris covering the sidewalk and a couple of vehicles in the street. So they quickly transmitted an alarm for a major collapse response. And we now have over 250 firefighters, dozens of pieces of equipment, dozens of pieces of special equipment with our special operations command. We have backhoes on the scene but we know we’re going to need some cranes, which we have coming on the way. The plan right now is to extinguish the fire. We’re doing surface removal at the present time. We have to clean the sidewalk of the debris and the brick to check to make sure that there was nobody on the sidewalk or the street. And then once the fire is under control and extinguished, we will start to do some surface removal, some debris removal, some very careful – the building is in a very precarious position, we want to make sure that everybody that’s in there, that first responders are safe. It’s been a great interagency response between OEM, police, fire, buildings, but it’s going to be a long extended operation to make sure that we can get through that debris as quickly as possible. 


Mayor: Thank you very much, Commissioner. I’d like to call forward Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.