New York building explodes and collapses

Local TV stations reported that several people had sustained minor injuries in the incident at 116th Street and Park Avenue

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An explosion Wednesday destroyed a five-story New York City residential building, sparking a serious fire and engulfing the area in thick smoke.

The New York Police Department has said that two women died in the blast. NYC mayor added that a ‘number’ of people were missing.

A utility company said a resident in a nearby building reported smelling gas shortly before the explosion Wednesday morning, according to Associated Press.

Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee says a resident from a building next to the two that collapsed reported that he smelled gas inside his apartment, but thought the odor could be coming from outside.

He would not speculate on whether a gas leak caused the explosion.

“It was an explosion and a building collapsed,” a spokesman for New York Police Department told AFP, giving no further details. Firefighters have been dispatched to the scene.

“The call came at 9:34 am (1334 GMT). It is a residential building. The New York Fire Department is in the process of extinguishing the fire,” another police spokesman added.

One person with “serious trauma” was being treated at a nearby hospital, and more injured people were expected, Lamarr Nelson, a hospital spokesman, told Associated Press.

Sidewalks for blocks around the building in Harlem were littered with broken glass from shattered storefront and apartment windows. Witnesses say the blast was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby stores.

A neighboring building was severely damaged. The cause of the blast was unclear.

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

Eoin Hayes, 26, said he heard the explosion at about 9:30 a.m., ran to the window and saw flames consuming one building and smoke rising into the air.

“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.”

Hayes said the fire consumed one building and then moved to the one next to it. Both buildings appeared to be residential.

The explosion occurred very close to elevated Metro-North commuter railroad tracks. Train service was suspended to and from Grand Central on all three train lines while employees remove debris from the tracks.

The fire department said it sent nearly 170 members to the scene.

[With AP and AFP]

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