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Gas explosion in New York City destroys buildings, kills at least eight

13 March 2014

A gas leak caused a large explosion that destroyed two East Harlem apartment buildings on March 12, killing at least eight people, injuring more than 70 and leaving at least one other missing. The blast site was on Park Avenue at 116th Street, not far from Central Park. Con Edison said it sent utility workers to check out a gas leak report, but they arrived too late.

Stock image
Stock image

The explosion shattered windows a block away, rained debris onto an elevated rail track and caused a plume of thick smoke to cover the neighbourhood.

According to local reports, residents had complained repeatedly in recent weeks about the smell of gas in the buildings but a Con Ed spokesman said there was only one gas odour complaint on record and that was fixed.

Con Ed said it remained to be seen whether the leak was in a company main or in customer-installed inside plumbing. The gas main that serves the area was made of plastic and cast iron, and the iron dated to 1887.

The Metro-North railway, which serves 280,000 commuters a day between New York and Connecticut, suspended all service to and from Grand Central for much of the day while the debris was removed from its tracks and the structural integrity of the elevated structure was checked.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the incident.  Robert Sumwalt from the NTSB said that the two five-story buildings had been reduced to a three-story pile of bricks and twisted metal.

“We are not able to get in up close and personal to begin close examination of the pipe. We’re not able to do that until the FDNY determines that the area is safe,” he said

Firefighters expect to get to the basements of the buildings by Saturday. The investigation could take up to a year.

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