Two people remain unaccounted for and 25 people were hurt after an explosion, likely gas-related, sparked a fire and building collapse the East Village Thursday afternoon. The FDNY and other responders remained at the smoky scene on 2nd Avenue near St. Marks Place. The fire is under control but is still smoldering, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday. That means when crews begin sifting through the debris, the fire may reignite.
The fire and collapse affected at least four residential buildings: 119, 121, 123, and 125 2nd Avenue. The buildings also house retail stores on the ground floor.
Authorities said 20 civilians, four members of the FDNY, and one EMS worker were hurt. Four civilians were critically hurt, seven were hospitalized for lesser injuries, the FDNY said. Of the wounded FDNY workers, four were firefighters taken to Bellevue and Lenox Hill and one was a medic treated at the scene, the department said.
It is not clear if the buildings were completely evacuated.
De Blasio and other city officials said the explosion was probably gas-related. Contractors installed a new meter inside 121 2nd Avenue earlier in the day. Con Edison inspectors then came to examine the equipment.
"We were evaluating the meter installation for a new service that was going to be installed to the building. There was also a second existing service there," said Con Ed President Craig Ivey. "The new installation did not pass our inspection at that time, so it meant it wasn't ready for gas to be introduced."
About an hour later, the explosion occurred. De Blasio said there are no indications that anyone called either 911 or 311 to report a smell of gas. He said the gas line may have been "inappropriately accessed" but investigators will need to get to the site of the explosion to see. Con Edison shut down gas service in the neighborhood.
"We had no reports of gas odors in the area prior to the fire and explosion. A survey conducted yesterday of the gas mains on the block found no leaks," Con Ed said in a statement posted online. "We continue to work with all agencies on the investigation into the cause, and we are praying for the recovery of all the injured.
The city and Con Edison are investigating.
"We are praying that no other individuals are injured and that there are no fatalities," de Blasio said.
Fox 5 reporter Dan Bowens was on the scene when he witnessed a facade of one building crumble to the sidewalk.
Two women who live in a nearby building said they heard the blast, looked outside and saw what was happening, and then grabbed their dog and vacated. They said that glass from the explosion reached all the way across the street.
A man who works across the street told Fox 5 that he helped an injured restaurant worker and others get out of one building.
Two witnesses told Fox 5 they saw a man rescue a girl stuck on a fire escape.
Several witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion and seeing dense smoke coming from the buildings.
Officials said that a shelter has been set up at P.S. 63 at 121 East 3rd Street. The American Red Cross is there to help displaced residents. The Red Cross was also handing out hot meals and drinks to first responders at East 9th Street, about two blocks from the blast site.
The Health Department warned residents in the area to take precautions against inhaling the smoke from the fire.
"Smoke from fires pollutes the air we breathe," the department said on its website. "Protect yourself by staying away from smoky areas and getting medical help right away if you have heart, circulatory or breathing problems and feel worse after being near a fire."
I will take this occasion to say, as we said many times after the East Harlem tragedy: any time you smell gas, you need to call 911 immediately, or call Con Ed immediately," de Blasio said. "There's no reason to debate, there's no reason to delay. That call needs to go in immediately."