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Explosion In New York Apartment Building Kills At Least 4; 8 Still Missing

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Justin Lane/EPA/Landov

Firefighters try to put out a fire after a reported explosion and building collapse in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City on Wednesday. The cause of the explosion, as well as reports of any injuries, had not yet been determined.

New York firefighters were searching two East Harlem buildings for possible survivors after an explosion and collapse of the structures, including a five-story apartment complex. Officials say that a preliminary investigation shows that a gas leak was the likely cause of the explosion and that four people were dead, at least 36 injured and eight missing.

The fire department says the explosion occurred at 1646 Park Ave and that the injured include two life threatening, five serious but non-life threatening and 15 minor.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at a news conference, described the incident, which occurred at about 6:30 a.m. PT, as "a tragedy of the worst kind."

He said that there were people still missing from the blast that affected buildings in an around the center of the explosion. He said the response to the explosion would "be an extended operation."

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said the building where the explosion was thought to have occurred "appears not to be there anymore."

Con Ed tweets that its workers were responding to a report of a gas odor at 1652 Park. The utility says the call came in at 6:13 a.m. PT and that crews were dispatched a few minutes later and arrived on the scene after the explosion.

De Blasio said preliminary reports are that there was no indication of a problem before that call.

Live television footage from the scene shows at least four fire department ladders squads pouring water on the burning debris as heavy smoke billowed off the wreckage.

The New York Times says witnesses reported hearing what sounded like an explosion before the collapse occurred.

CBS New York quotes one witness, Samuel Paul, as saying the building suddenly shook.

"We saw a whole lot of smoke. A lot of smoke came out," Paul told CBS 2. "There's a lot of dark smoke still coming out. A lot of fire engines I saw going to 125th Street."

"The smoke started to rise. It looked like something fell because it wasn't like a fire. It just looked like debris smoke, similar to 9/11," he added.

CNN reports that Consolidated Edison utility workers were called to investigate a possible gas leak shortly before the explosion.

The Daily News quotes another witness, Ashley Rivera, as saying "for weeks [tenants] have been smelling gas."

Rivera said when the explosion occurred, "We saw people flying out of the window ... Those are my neighbors."

Reuters quotes an FDNY spokesman as saying the department had no information on casualties or whether anyone was inside.

The news agency said commuter trains were stopped on nearby tracks and passengers were ordered off the Metro-North Railroad cars at the Fordham stop in the Bronx, passengers said.

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