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Harlem explosion levels two buildings, kills 2, injures 18

Park Avenue at 116th Street is in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. This is where an explosion leveled two buildings on Wednesday, killing two and injuring 18. It is a mostly Hispanic, working class neighborhood and the building was relatively new, about two years old. The buildings at 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue were leveled to the first floor, according to a March 12 ABC Local News article. One of the two buildings was occupied.

Harlem explosion first responders
Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Just before the explosion, a resident called Con Edison to report the smell of gas. Mayor Bill DeBlasio confirmed the cause was likely to be a gas leak. Two Con Edison crews were dispatched within minutes of the call, but the explosion happened before they could get to the site. Con Edison is working to isolate any other leaks on the 8-inch low-pressure gas main that serves the street.

Also before the explosion, a fire broke out on the first floor in the Absolute Piano Store.

The two deceased victims were women. There are more missing people and the search is expected to continue for some time. The fire is not completely under control and is delaying the search. The building rubble is also very unstable.

Dozens of vehicles and other equipment are at the scene. Over 250 firefighters responded to the explosion. It is not clear how much damage occurred at the surrounding buildings, so a larger section of the neighborhood must be searched and examined.

An elevated Metro-North track passes the scene. As a result, service is unavailable from Grand Central Terminal to the Yankees Stadium-East 153rd Street station. The city recommends the No. 4 subway train for transportation past the area. As for buses, the M1, M102 and M116 buses will be detoured.

According to a March 12 New York Daily News article, records show that new gas pipes were scheduled to be installed at 1644 Park Avenue, which is one of the collapsed buildings. Permits were issued for 120 feet of gas pipe to be installed along the outside of the building. The pipe was to be connected to a 5th floor stove. No one could confirm that the work was ever completed or passed a final inspection.

Ashley Rivera, 21 is one witness who complained of smelling gas “for weeks.”

There are live MSNBC news reports that 1644 Park avenue had as many as 60 building code and safety violations.

1646 Park Avenue had a large vertical crack in the rear wall. The crack was said to be a dangerous destabilizing factor and the owner, Carl Demler was cited and fined in 2008. It is not known whether Demler corrected the violation. Inspectors found 13 other violations at that building, including missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and blocked exits. Those violations have no record of a resolution.

This explosion is drawing attention to the issue of New York City's very old and archaic gas infrastructure.

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