At least seven people have died and dozens have been injured in the explosion that leveled two residential buildings in Upper Manhattan Wednesday. A search still continues for survivors and bodies that may be trapped beneath the rubble on East 116th Street and Park Avenue.
Efforts are complicated as a sinkhole formed in the area in front of where the buildings used to be, preventing the nearly 170 firefighters at the scene from getting to parts of the wreckage.
“Heavy equipment, required to remove additional debris, cannot be brought to the scene until the sinkhole is mitigated,” the New York Fire Department spokesperson said. “The mitigation is in process and will likely take several hours.”
Officials say there were a total of 15 units in the two 5-story buildings.
Eoin Hayes, 26-year old Harlem resident, said he felt the explosion in his apartment from almost 10 blocks away. He could look from his window and see flames and billowing smoke.
“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.”
Cause has not been given for the explosion and fire. Authorities say a resident in a neighboring building reported the smell of gas before the blast, but respondents at Con Edison energy company were not dispatched in time.
Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee said the call came in around 9:13 a.m. and a truck was sent out two minutes later, but arrived after the explosion. Edward Foppiano, Con Edison’s senior vice president of gas operations, said they are responding as though this were a gas leak although there is not yet evidence to prove that it was.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates pipeline explosions, is reportedly sending investigators to New York.
N.Y. Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people.”