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East Harlem residents, organizations support explosion victims

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East Harlem residents and organizations are working to find and support victims of an explosion that took place in two apartment buildings near E. 116th St. on Wednesday morning.

On Sunday, the Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service, a nonprofit family health organization in East Harlem, announced that it has been named part of the East Harlem Coordinated Outreach team formed by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a nonprofit organization that encourages partnerships between the city and private sectors to support public programs.

“Effective immediately, LSA will be dedicating staff and resources to especially focus on finding and serving those impacted in the Hispanic and immigrant communities of East Harlem,” LSA’s interim executive director John W. Corwin said in a statement.

LSA is also accepting donations of anywhere from $50 to $500 to support the victims and their families. Though the organization's building and staff members were unharmed, the organization is still looking for families who lived in the collapsed buildings or were displaced, LSA stated on its official Twitter page on Wednesday afternoon.

A gas leak caused an explosion at two apartment buildings on 1644 and 1646 Park Ave. in East Harlem at 9:31 a.m. on Wednesday. The explosion killed eight people and injured more than 70 people, NBC New York reported.

On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced that 15 apartments on the East Side are now available for displaced residents for up to three months. The New York State Association for Affordable Housing will also work with city housing agencies to secure temporary and long-term apartments in East Harlem.

La Casa Azul, an independent bookstore on 143 E. 103rd St. that focuses on Latino literature and bilingual books for children, announced on Wednesday that it is now an auxiliary center for donations for people who were displaced, injured or generally affected by the explosion.

People can donate water, canned and packaged foods, clothing, shoes, school supplies and toiletries until 6 p.m. today. The donations will then be delivered to East Harlem Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez’s office.

Two of the bookstore's five employees live near the site of the explosion but both were unharmed, said Aurora Anaya-Cerda, the bookstore's owner.

"A lot of people asked us how we were doing, if the store was fine," Anaya-Cerda said. "We posted pictures. We wanted everyone to know that we were okay."

Bikram Yoga East Harlem, located on 4 E. 116th St., is situated nearly two blocks from the site of the explosion. The studio plans to work with organizations contributing to the relief effort. Classes were canceled when the explosion occurred, said Lianna Lifson, the studio's manager.

"It was awful," Lifson said. "Our whole studio smelled terrible."

On Friday, East Harlem resident Kate McDermott, a writer and digital media curator, started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 by April 12 to support victims. She plans to give the donations to community organizations such as The Center for Urban Community Services, a human services agency that provides housing social services.

The American Red Cross closed its shelter at The Salvation Army on 175 E. 125th St. as the city arranges for displaced residents to move to other accommodations. The Red Cross is now providing services at The New York City Resident Service Center on 1580 Park Ave.

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who lives just blocks away from where the explosion occurred, had converted her office into a command post for first responders and people who need help, the New York Observer reported.

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