New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio updated the city on a dramatic explosion that leveled two buildings in Harlem early this morning. The Mayor told the media that a gas leak was reported to authorities about fifteen minutes before the explosion, and there are at least two casualties and “a number of individuals” missing.
De Blasio went to the scene of the explosion and updated the media from 116th Street and Lexington Avenue, a block away from the site. He alerted the city that the block on which the explosion occurred would be closed off to the public until further notice and encouraged residents to have patience: “This will, again, be a long operation to get in there and fully get the answers.”
Two individuals, both adult women, are confirmed dead and eighteen injured, including one minor with “serious” injuries. A number of people who could have been in the area are still missing, however, but the mayor did not indicate how many. According to police, one building had six residential units, while the other had nine, and authorities are looking to account for every person who lived there or otherwise would have likely been in the area. “I emphasize that those who are missing could well be safe in another location and just not contacted yet or reachable yet,” de Blasio told the public.
While the explosion was attributable to a gas leak, the city government was not aware of any temporary gas lines in the region that could have contributed to that. Mayor de Blasio confirmed that the buildings surrounding the two that collapsed endured “very heavy impact” and that the area is not yet safe, as “heavy fire ensued, as well.”
Asked whether there was any way to prevent the explosion, Mayor de Blasio described the collapse as “a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people.” He praised the responders of the New York Fire and Police Departments, stating that the response to the smell of gas was “literally within minutes,” and could not have been faster or prevented the explosion. While Con Edison, the gas utility company, was alerted of an unusual smell of gas in the area at 9:15 a.m. this morning, the buildings fully collapsed only fifteen minutes later.
The Daily News reports that neighbors had been smelling gas in the area for “weeks,” and that witnesses who saw the explosion from below saw “people flying out of windows.” One resident described watching the fire explode: “It looked like the towers all over again.”
Watch coverage of Mayor de Blasio’s press conference via ABC below: