‘God protected it’: Bible discovered in rubble of East Harlem church destroyed in New York explosion

As rubble is finally cleared, investigations into blast cause can begin in earnest

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Rescue workers searching through the rubble left by the devastating New York apartment building explosion have come across an historic, decades-old Bible miraculously intact at the heart of the wreckage.

The suspected gas leak brought down two large apartment blocks in East Harlem on Wednesday, destroying the Spanish Christian Church and killing eight people, including five members of the church’s congregation.

By Friday around half of the rubble was yet to be cleared away, but there was a pause in the clean-up operation after emergency workers pulled out a large, water-damaged Bible.

Local media reported that it was the original Bible used when the now-destroyed church was set up around 80 years ago. About two dozen people, including clergy members, carried it away in a solemn procession.

“This was in the depths of the rubble. Somehow God protected it,” said Rick del Rio, a bishop at the Church of God where the Spanish Christian Church will now hold its services.

Letitia James, the city's public advocate, said that the ruined church’s pastor, Thomas Perez, suffered heart palpitations when he saw the Bible. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital as a precaution, supporters said.

As workers continued to clear away the last of the rubble on Sunday, congregations in East Harlem gathered to mourn, one for the loss of the church and another from the Bethel Gospel Assembly for the two members it lost.


A fundraising drive will be launched to help those affected by the explosion, according to Chirlane McCray, wife of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

The money will support a relief plan that includes a victims' assistance fund to go toward funeral arrangements, rent and household expenses. The plan also includes counselling and outreach to immigrant communities.

At the scene of the explosion, investigators were yesterday able to begin in earnest their search for the route of the blast.

Authorities said someone in a neighbouring building had reported smelling gas around 15 minutes before the explosion.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates pipeline accidents, announced on Friday that underground tests conducted in the hours after the explosion registered high concentrations of natural gas.

Arson detectives and fire marshals had been waiting until the rubble was cleared away to enter the basements of the destroyed buildings to examine meters, check pipes and inspect any possible ignition sources, such as light switches, that might have caused the explosion.

More than 60 people were injured in the explosion and more than 100 others were forced to leave their homes.

Additional reporting by AP