NEW YORK, March 13 (UPI) -- At least seven people were killed and more than 40 people were reported injured at an explosion in New York City's East Harlem.
Nine people remain missing hours after the explosion as firefighters attempt to clear the debris in search of survivors. The explosion leveled two five-story buildings on Park Avenue, in an area also known as Spanish Harlem. City authorities suspect the explosion could have been caused by a gas leak, but are not willing to confirm that just yet.
Around 250 firefighters from 44 units responded to the explosion, clearing destroyed vehicles outside the buildings and clearing the rubble brick by brick, in order to look for any survivors.
Consolidated Edison said that they did receive a call at 9:13 a.m. on Wednesday reporting a gas leak. Con Ed dispatched a truck two minutes later but arrived just after the explosion. Edward Foppiano, the utility's senior vice president of gas operations, said that they were treating this as a gas leak, but there was no evidence so far to corroborate that theory.
An official for the building department said that one of the two buildings that had collapsed had received a permit to install 120 feet of gas piping. The work was completed last June.
As the real cause behind the explosion remains unknown, the National Transportation Safety Board, which overlooks pipeline safety and pipeline explosions, is sending a team to investigate the explosion.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that authorities had no early indication of danger except for the call about the gas leak that was made 15 minutes before the explosion brought down the two buildings.
“This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people,” the mayor said, warning that the search “will take quite a bit of time.”
[New York Times]