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Harlem Explosion Causes Collapse Of 2 Buildings, Multiple Deaths Reported

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HARLEM
Firefighters battle a fire after two buildings collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. John Minchillo | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two buildings collapsed in East Harlem on Wednesday morning after a massive explosion, leaving at least six people dead.

The buildings, which collapsed around 9:30 a.m., were located at 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue, between 116th and 117th streets. Local hospitals treated at least 69 people for injuries, according to NBC New York. The Associated Press reported that as of Wednesday evening, there were still nine people missing.

One of the victims was identified as Griselde Camacho, 44, a public safety sergeant at Hunter College. The school's president, Jennifer Raab, confirmed Camacho's death in a statement, saying, "our hearts go out to Griselde's family at this terrible time."

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Dental hygienist Carmen Tanco, 67, Rosaura Hernandez Barrios, 22, and three others also perished in the building collapse, The New York Times reported. The last three victims were discovered overnight and have not yet been identified.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference that the explosion was caused by a gas leak. In a statement to the New York Daily News, Con Edison confirmed that neighbors called in to complain about the smell of gas just 18 minutes before the explosion.

“This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people,” de Blasio said.

The New York City Fire Department responded to a 5-alarm fire at the scene of the collapse.

"The way the building imploded after the explosion, it must have happened on the bottom floor," said Carmen Vargas-Rosa, an employee at the Spanish Christian Church located in one of the buildings that collapsed. "The only thing I can see doing that much damage is a gas explosion."

Vargas-Rosa said she hadn't heard from many of the tenants who lived in the apartments above the church. She said at least 14 tenants and their children lived in the buildings.

"We could feel the boom," said neighbor Gus Cortez, 36. "We ran outside and we could see that the buildings had fallen. There was a lot of fire. People were scared."

The blast occurred near the Metro-North train tracks in Harlem, and service was suspended in and out of Grand Central Terminal as workers cleared debris. Trains were up and running again by the afternoon.

This is a developing story. Live updates below:

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Mayor de Blasio said displaced families will be provided temporary housing for up to three months, thanks to Real Estate Board of New York.

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FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano said the department is in the process of removing the site's final debris. The debris will be taken to Randall's Island for further forensic investigation.

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HuffPost's Saki Knafo reports:

A gas leak almost certainly played a role in the explosion that flattened two buildings in Manhattan on Wednesday morning, killing at least seven people and injuring many more. City officials have said as much, and local residents told reporters on Wednesday that they smelled gas in the area well before the blast.

So it’s darkly ironic that the owner of one of the buildings destroyed in the explosion had actually shunned gas for an alternative energy source -- a far less combustible one.

Biodiesel, a unconventional fuel celebrated by proponents as a safer and cleaner alternative to both gas and petroleum, is made of recycled vegetable oil, animal fats, and other substances. Only about 1,000 buildings in New York City have heating systems that run solely on biodiesel, but the building at 1646 Park Avenue was one of them.

Read more here.

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Andreas Panagopoulos has been identified as one of at least seven victims who died from the explosion.

The Wall Street Journal reports Panagopoulos, 43, was a Greek musician who lived in East Harlem and worked in online advertising.

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De Blasio said that there was no reason to suspect there might be asbestos in the air after a deadly explosion that rocked Harlem on Wednesday. In a presser on Thursday, he stressed that people in the area should still close their windows and avoid any visible smoke outside.

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NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said that there were a number of surveillance cameras that captured images of the explosion and they will be a part of the ongoing investigation.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio said that 311 did not receive any call the night before the explosion about a potential gas leak or any strange smells. He urged New York City residents that they should call if they think anything might be unusual.

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Con Ed chief John McAvoy said that the company looked over 10 years worth of data about the gas main in the building that exploded in Harlem yesterday. There only two cases of any work was done there, he said, and there was no evidence of anything troublesome.

De Blasio stressed that a gas leak isn't "treated as business as usual." He urged viewers that if they ever smell something to call 311 or 180075ConEd.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio and FDNY commissioner Sal Casano said that they could not officially say what caused the explosion at a Harlem building on Wednesday.

In a presser on Thursday, De Blasio said officials expect to have more information in the next coming days. They can only get conclusive information once the fire is completely out, he said.

Cassano said that emergency personnel need to get to the basement and clear the debris in order to reach heaters, meters, places that could be a source of ignition. Until then, the cause cannot be determined.

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FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano said that the department went through all the 311/911 records from the past 30 days and found no reports of a gas leak from the two buildings or from surrounding buildings.

This contradicts reports from residents in the area that they complained of a gas-like smell for months before the explosion occurred. Tenants said they called 311 about the issues.

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The NYC Department of Health has recommended that families who live near the area where the explosion occurred should keep their windows closed and limit exposure as much as possible. The smoky air from the "smoldering wreckage" could still cause health issues for some people. Anyone experiencing shortness of breath should seek immediate medical attention, de Blasio said.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio said that Con Edison was on site with the emergency personnel helping restore power to the area.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed that anyone who needs help, be it aid or counseling, will receive it--- regardless of immigration states. He said that 66 people, including 14 families with children, are receiving temporary shelter at nearby a Salvation Army

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Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed in a press conference that 7 people have been confirmed as dead after the horrific explosion in Harlem yesterday. The names of two victims have been released, he said, but the others would not until their respective families are notified.

Some good news, he said, was that no first responders have been injured in the rescue efforts. He said that the efforts would continue as long as needed.

He urged anyone trying to find family member who may have been affected can call 311 and ask for Unified Victims Identification System. The system has had about 200 calls so far.

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Bill De Blasio called the explosion a "serious loss of life, painful 26 hours." In a press conference he said that the wind was creating "exceedingly difficult circumstances" with the wreckage still burning slowly.

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The Daily News reported a remarkable story about one of the people affected by the explosion. Colin Patterson, who lived in the back of Absolute Piano, one of the businesses destroyed in yesterday's building explosion in Harlem escaped serious injury, in part thanks to the instruments strewn about him.

"I was in a miraculous cocoon," he told the News.

Read more here.

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At least 5 people are unaccounted for in the horrific explosion that rocked Harlem yesterday. As the New York Times reports, the death toll has risen to 7 people. Rescuers are still searching.

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