NEW YORK: A major explosion caused by a gas leak flattened two Manhattan apartment buildings in a fireball on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila), killing three people and injuring 63 others.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident “a tragedy of the worst kind” and his office said nine residents from the two collapsed buildings were still unaccounted for by nightfall.
Firefighters battled throughout the afternoon to extinguish the heavy fire in East Harlem, where witnesses compared the scene of twisted metal, thick white smoke and dusty rubble to a war zone.
The explosion sparked inevitable reminders for some New Yorkers of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 that brought down the Twin Towers. Other witnesses said it felt like an earthquake. There were 15 apartments in the two buildings that collapsed, de Blasio and city officials told reporters near the scene at 116th Street and Park Avenue, a mainly Latino community.
Around 15 minutes before the blast, energy company Con Edison received a call from an adjoining apartment building alerting maintenance staff to the smell of gas.
The explosion struck around 9:30 a.m. and the New York Fire Department said firefighters were on the scene two minutes later.
“There was a major explosion that destroyed two buildings. The explosion was based on a gas leak,” de Blasio said.
It was the first deadly disaster of its kind to strike the city of eight million since the Democrat took office in January and will raise concerns about safety in less affluent neighborhoods.
“There is a tremendous amount of anxiety, but suffice it to say that every effort is being expended to locate each and every one of these [missing]individuals,” the mayor said.