East Harlem 'explosion': Seven dead and more than 40 injured in Manhattan building collapse in NYC

A number of residents are still thought to be trapped among the rubble of two collapsed apartment buildings following a major gas explosion

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The Independent US

At least seven people are dead and more than 40 injured after two apartment buildings in East Harlem partially collapsed following a massive gas explosion on Wednesday.

A seventh body was found among the rubble in the early hours of this morning, New York Fire Department spokesman Danny Glover said, as rescue workers battled against strong winds, freezing temperatures and thick acrid air.

The “major explosion”, which shattered windows a block away and scattered debris onto commuter railroad tracks, brought down the adjoining five-story buildings, with a total of 15 apartments, at about 9.30 am on a largely residential Upper Manhattan block at East 116th Street and Park Avenue.

Two women were confirmed early in the day as having been killed, and the body of a third woman was found in the rubble later in the day, police said. Search teams pulled the body of a fourth victim from the site late Wednesday night, fire department spokesman Khalid Baylor said. The fifth body of an adult female was found in the early hours of this morning.

A sixth fatality was confirmed by New York City police when the body of an adult male was discovered shortly after.

Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella said several people were still missing as of midnight. A city police spokesman put the number of apartment residents who remained unaccounted for at about five.

Some parts of the debris pile were inaccessible because of a sinkhole caused by a subsurface water main break, officials said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference that the gas leak had been reported to the utility company just 15 minutes before the blast.

A resident from a building next to the two that collapsed reported that he smelled gas inside his apartment, but thought the odour could be coming from outside, Bob McGee, a spokesman for the utility company Con Edison, said.

He said the utility company dispatched two crews just after 9.15 am but they arrived after the explosion.

Witnesses, many travelling to work and some still in their apartments, said they had heard a very loud blast from where the apartment building once stood.

"I heard a big explosion. Boom!" Aisha Watts, who lives in the building next door, said.

"The walls started crumbling down. The windows were gone," Ms Watts said. The mother-of-three had to be rescued by a neighbour who kicked down the jammed door to her home.

"This is a tragedy because there was no time to warn people ahead of time," Mr de Blasio said. "We are expending every effort to locate each and every loved one."

At least three of the injured are children, and a 15-year-old boy remains in a critical condition with burns, broken bones and internal injuries. The majority of injuries were minor and included cuts and scrapes.

President Barack Obama sent condolences to the victim’s families after being briefed on the collapse.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this incident," the White House said in a statement.

Additional reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press