Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo and Julie Schwietert Collazo
I happened to be in East Harlem on Wednesday morning when a pair of buildings exploded and then collapsed on the corner of 116th Street and Park Avenue.
I’d just gotten off the 6 train at 103rd Street and Lexington and had walked one block west to Park when I heard a massive boom. I was standing right underneath the overpass of the elevated tracks of Metro-North; like others on the street, I stopped–the sound was that loud–and looked up to see if a train had crashed or derailed. I could see that the northbound train had stopped, but it didn’t appear to be in distress. I couldn’t see the southbound train. Given the number of safety problems Metro-North has had recently, I immediately took to twitter and wrote:
I did a quick search on twitter and then on the websites of some local media outlets as I was walking to my doctor’s appointment, but there was no news yet. By the time I got to the doctor’s office a few minutes later, CBS 2 was reporting that a set of buildings had exploded and collapsed on the corner of 116th Street and Park Avenue.
After learning that the doctor didn’t accept my insurance, I grabbed my press pass out of my backpack and headed up to 116th. I could see the smoke from where I was on 102nd, and by the time I got to 110th, I could see emergency vehicles and personnel in a makeshift staging area, awaiting instructions.
By 112th, north and soutbound traffic had been stopped and diverted, and by 115th, a block away from the collapse, police had set up a “Do Not Cross” line; even those of us with press accreditations couldn’t pass.
The smoke was thick and residents of the neighborhood had gathered to see what was happening and take videos and photos with their phones. Many of them wore face masks. FDNY ladder crews worked to contain a fire that occurred as part of the collapse and I saw at least one person being removed from the scene on a stretcher as I did a phone interview with a Russian television station about the explosion.
Francisco returned to the scene yesterday morning, 24 hours after the collapse. He was able to cross the 115th and 116th “Do Not Cross” lines to get some additional photos. He said FDNY crews were still fighting a smoldering fire, and beyond the point from which I’d been able to report the day before, he said cars and vans with blown-out windows–-at least one with its driver’s side door handle blown off, and others battered by flying bricks, some of which still rested where they landed–sat under the Metro-North tracks waiting to be moved from the scene.
Red Cross staff had set up a help station less than a block from the explosion site, which was still busy with officials from NYPD, FDNY, FBI, the Office of Emergency Management, ConEd, the National Transportation Safety Board, and other city, state, and federal agencies.
The Red Cross had also established a center for families and others affected by the collapse at the Salvation Army Community Center on 125th Street.
As of this morning, nearly 48 hours after the buildings’ collapse, NY1 is reporting that eight people are confirmed as having died in the explosion, and more than 40 people were injured. Several dozen other families and businesses were temporarily displaced while utilities to their buildings were out of service.
The cause of the explosion has not been confirmed–and cannot be confirmed until the smoldering fire is fully extinguished, but it is believed that a gas leak may be responsible. For continued updates, check the official New York City website, www.nyc.gov.