Two Dead, 17 Injured as NY Buildings Collapse

(AFP) -- Two residential buildings in Manhattan collapsed in an explosion on Wednesday, killing two women and injuring at least 17 other people as a serious fire spewed out thick smoke, officials said.

The explosion struck a building at 116th Street and Park Avenue in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, where witnesses said they were jolted awake by what sounded like an earthquake.

Police told AFP two residential buildings next door to each other had collapsed in the incident, killing two women and injuring 17 other people who were transferred to local hospitals.

Mainline train services in and out of Grand Central terminal were suspended as a result of the incident next to its tracks.

Hundreds of police and firefighters were on site with emergency vans and fire trucks, as a dense column of smoke spewed into the sky over the Metro-North railway line, an AFP reporter said.

There was no official confirmation of the cause of the blast but indications pointed towards a gas leak.

Energy company Con Edison told AFP it got a call alerting crews to a possible gas leak at 9:13 am, just minutes before the blast.

"A resident reported smelling gas inside the apartment building at 1652 Park Avenue but indicated the odor may have been coming from outside the building," company spokesman Bob McGee said.

"Two Con Edison crews were dispatched at 9:15 am and arrived just after the explosion occurred," he added.

The company said it was working closely with the New York Fire Department to make the area safe but said it could not yet confirm that the blast was caused by gas.

"Our crews are checking our gas lines and working to isolate any leaks that they find and they're working closely with the FDNY to make the area safe," McGee said.

Local residents also spoke of smelling gas in the area.

A spokesman for New York Police Department told AFP that it received an emergency call at 9:34 am.

The Fire Department told AFP that more than 168 fire fighters and 44 different units had responded to the explosion.

Witnesses compared the sound of the explosion to an earthquake and what they saw to a war zone, after the blast ripped through their bustling city routine.

Jazzmen Arzuaga, 30, told AFP she was at work at a hospital when her wife rang to tell her what had happened.

"She called me and told me 'Oh my God, you need to come home now, it's like World War II, people are dying, there was an explosion.' I just literally ran," she said.

The couple live across the street from the blast.

Arzuaga's wife Jay Virgo, also 30, said she was lying in bed when the blast blew her onto the floor.

"I jumped up and I just put my coat on and I ran out of the door," she said at the scene.

"I ran out of the building and I looked across the street and there were couple of people lying on the floor. There were glass everwhere, huge pieces of glass. It just looked crazy."

Witness Robert Santiago told CBS that he was sleeping when suddenly the explosion shook his bed and the floor.

"It smells very bad out here. It smells like rubble," he said.

"I thought the world was coming to an end, an earthquake or something like that. Terrible," he added.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Metro-North trains had been suspended indefinitely in and out of Grand Central because of the building explosion and collapse. 

"Southbound trains are being held at stations to await further instructions. Northbound trains are being held in Grand Central," said an emergency notice published on its website.

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