March 13, 2014 4:15 am
Updated: March 13, 2014 4:16 am

Gas explosion destroys 2 NY buildings; 6 people killed


WATCH: An explosion levelled two apartment buildings in East Harlem Wednesday morning, leaving at least two people dead and more than a dozen missing. Robin Stickley reports.

  • 6 people are dead, at least 60 are injured
  • At least three of the injured are children
  • Nine people are still missing
  • NTSB sends team to investigate the explosion
  • Gas leak suspected to be the cause
  • A utility company said a resident in a nearby building reported smelling gas shortly before the blast
  • Witnesses say the explosion was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby stores and sent people running out onto the streets

NEW YORK -A sixth person has been confirmed killed by an explosion that flattened two New York City apartment buildings.

Police Sgt. John Buthorn says the body of an adult female was found among the debris around 2:50 a.m. Thursday.

He says the number of people unaccounted for is about five.

IN PHOTOS: Building explodes, collapses in East Harlem neighbourhood

Police said two of the dead were women believed to be in their 40s.

At least three of the injured were children; one, a 15-year-old boy, was reported in critical condition with burns, broken bones and internal injuries. Most of the other victims’ injuries were minor and included cuts and scrapes.

Fire officials said some people were unaccounted for but cautioned they may not have been in the buildings.

RAW VIDEO: First-responders jump into action at scene of Harlem building explosion

According to the New York City Fire Department’s (FDNY) official Twitter account, FDNY had at least 44 units and 250 members  responding to the 5-alarm fire and are attending the scene at 1644 & 1646 Park Avenue in East Harlem.

— FDNY (@FDNY) March 12, 2014

In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said there are a number of missing individuals and suggested some may have fled to safety. He said the city is expending every effort to locate the people who are still unaccounted for.

“Our hearts go out to all the families involved,” he said.

In this photo provided by Shane Kennedy, smoke rises from the site of an explosion and building collapse near Park Avenue and 116th Street in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

AP Photo/Shane Kennedy

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The mayor urged worried relatives to call 311. A hotline was being set up.

The White House issued a statement offering “thoughts and prayers” and commending first responders.

Utility company receives report of gas leak before explosion

Con Edison, a company that provides electric and natural gas service in New York City, said a resident from a building adjacent to the two that collapsed reported that he smelled gas inside his apartment, but thought the odour could be coming from outside.

Company spokesperson Sidney Alvarez told Global News the street is served by an eight-inch low-pressure gas main.

“Right now we physically have crews on the scene and they are looking to isolate the area see if there are any leaks and make the area safe,” said Alvarez . “And we are currently working with the fire department.”

Rescue workers remove an injured person on a stretcher following a building explosion and collapse in East Harlem, Wednesday, March 12, 2014 in New York.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

“I don’t know if the area has been de-energized,” he said.

TV news footage showed smoke billowing from the area. The site is adjacent to Metro-North commuter railroad tracks, not far from the northeastern tip of Central Park.  Metro-North said it halted service to and from Grand Central Terminal.

‘It kind of shook the whole building’

Police, some wearing gas masks and medical masks, handed out medical masks to residents and onlookers because of the thick white smoke that shrouded the area.

VIDEO: Witnesses describe what they saw, heard in Harlem building explosion

Eoin Hayes, 26, said the explosion shook his entire apartment building in Harlem at about 9:30 a.m. He ran to the window and saw flames consuming one building and smoke rising into the air.

PHOTO: Google Maps street view of buildings prior to explosion

Google Maps street view of buildings prior to explosion.

Google Maps

“I was in my bedroom and the explosion went off, it kind of shook the whole building,” Hayes said. “You could feel the vibrations going through the building.”

The two destroyed buildings, 1644 and 1646 Park Ave., were both five-story brick apartment buildings. One held a piano store on the first floor, the other a storefront church.

In this image taken from video from WABC, firefighters battle a blaze at the site of a possible explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

In this image taken from video from WABC, firefighters battle a blaze at the site of a possible explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

Building Department records don’t show any work in progress at either location, but the building that holds the church obtained permits to install new gas piping in June.

RAW VIDEO: Cellphone video captures moments following explosion in Harlem

NTSB sends team to investigate NYC explosion

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday it is sending a team of experts to New York City to investigate the explosion and building collapse.

The safety board investigates pipeline accidents as well as accidents involving all modes of transportation.

Previous violations reported

According to the  NYC Department of Buildings website, one of the buildings that collapsed, 1646 Park Avenue, was issued a violation in 2008. Records show that inspectors found the rear exterior of the building had several vertical cracks “which is hazardous for the safety of the structure.”

– with a file from The Associated Press

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