Gas blast destroys 2 NY buildings; 3 people dead - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Gas blast destroys 2 NY buildings; 3 people dead

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In this image taken from video from WABC, firefighters battle a blaze at the site of a possible explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP Photo/WABC-TV) In this image taken from video from WABC, firefighters battle a blaze at the site of a possible explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP Photo/WABC-TV)
In this image taken from video from WABC, firefighters battle a blaze at the site of a possible explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP Photo/WABC-TV) In this image taken from video from WABC, firefighters battle a blaze at the site of a possible explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP Photo/WABC-TV)
Emergency workers respond to the scene of an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeremy Sailing) Emergency workers respond to the scene of an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeremy Sailing)
Rescue workers remove an injured person on a stretcher after a possible explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014 (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) Rescue workers remove an injured person on a stretcher after a possible explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014 (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Firefighters work the scene of an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP) Firefighters work the scene of an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — A third person has been confirmed killed by an explosion that flattened two New York City apartment buildings. Nine occupants of the buildings are unaccounted for.

A gas leak triggered the explosion Wednesday morning on Park Avenue and 116th Street in East Harlem. The blast also injured more than 60 people. At least three of the injured were children.

The explosion shattered windows a block away, rained debris onto elevated commuter railroad tracks close by, cast a plume of smoke over the skyline and sent people running into the streets.

Authorities say the fiery blast erupted about 9:30 a.m., around 15 minutes after a neighboring resident reported smelling gas.

THIS IS A STORY UPDATE. For an earlier story, read below.

NEW YORK (AP) — A thunderous explosion flattened two East Harlem apartment buildings Wednesday as utility workers were on their way to investigate a report of a gas leak, killing at least two people, injuring more than 20 and leaving over a dozen others unaccounted for.

The blast rocked the neighborhood about 9:30 a.m., shattering windows a black way, hurling debris onto elevated commuter railroad tracks close by, and casting a plume of smoke over the skyline.

People went running into the streets, and the two five-story buildings on Park Avenue at 116th Street, near the northeastern corner of Central Park, were reduced to a burning heap of bricks and metal.

"It felt like an earthquake had rattled my whole building," said Waldemar Infante, a porter who was working in a basement nearby. "There were glass shards everywhere on the ground, and all the stores had their windows blown out."

Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee said a resident from a building next to the two that were destroyed had reported smelling gas inside his apartment and thought the odor could be coming from outside.

The utility dispatched two crews just after 9:15 a.m., but they arrived just after the explosion, McGee said.

Police said two women believed to be in their 40s were killed, and two of those hurt had life-threatening injuries.

Fire officials said more than a dozen people were unaccounted for. Mayor Bill de Blasio said some may have made it to safety.

Four hours after the blast, firefighters were still dousing the flames with water, and rescue workers had yet to venture into the debris to search for victims.

The neighborhood was brought to a standstill as police set up barricades to keep residents away. Thick, acrid smoke rose into the air, causing people's eyes to water. Some wore surgical masks, while others held their hands or scarves over their faces.

Sidewalks for blocks around were littered with broken glass. Witnesses said the blast was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby stores.

One of the side-by-side buildings had a piano store on the first floor, the other a storefront church. Building Department records don't show any work in progress at either address, but the building with the church had obtained permits to install new gas pipes in June.

A resident of the one of the buildings, Eusebio Perez, heard news of the explosion and hurried back from his job as a piano technician.

"There's nothing left," he said. "Just a bunch of bricks and wood."

Perez, 48, said he shared an apartment with a roommate and was unsure what his next steps would be.

"I only have what I'm wearing," he said. "I have to find a place to stay for tonight and organize what's going to be my next steps."

The Metro-North commuter railroad suspended all train service to and from Grand Central while the debris was removed from its tracks.

___

Associated Press Reporters Verena Dobnik, David B. Caruso, David Crary, Leanne Italie and Meghan Barr contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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