Mar 26, 2015 5:54 PM

New York City fire, building collapse injure several people

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) An apartment building collapsed in a fiery burst of rubble, and flames spread to two nearby buildings, injuring at least a dozen people and scattering debris across surrounding streets in the heart of Manhattan's trendy East Village.

The mayor said preliminary evidence suggested a gas-related explosion was to blame.

Orange flames billowed from the blaze on a block near New York University and the Washington Square Park area on Thursday as 120 firefighters converged to fight it. Smoke could be seen and smelled for miles.

Firefighters said at least 12 people were hurt, three critically, and other people were being evaluated at the scene. Mayor Bill de Blasio said it didn't appear that anyone was missing. He said his thoughts and prayers were with the injured and their families.

The fire department's commissioner said about 250 firefighters were on the scene and a second building was "in danger of possible collapse."

The area was being evacuated, and the city's health department advised residents to keep their windows closed because of the smoke.

Adil Choudhury, who lives a block away, ran outside when he heard "a huge boom."

"Already there was smoke everywhere" when he saw the building, he said. "The flames were coming out from the roof. The fire was coming out of every window."

Items from a ground-floor sushi restaurant were blown into a street, and the explosion was so forceful that it blew the door off a cafe across the avenue. Rubble, glass and debris littered sidewalks.

Crews with utility Con Edison were at the scene and planned to start investigating after firefighters got the blaze under control.

Area resident Paul Schoengold said he was walking about two blocks away when he heard an "incredibly loud" roar.

"Then the fire started. I could see the flames on the roof, and they kept getting higher," shooting perhaps 50 feet into the air, he said.

As freelance photographer Michael Seto ran up to the buildings after hearing the explosion in his apartment a block and a half away, flames were spreading and engulfing one building's first floor.

Meanwhile, a man was climbing up the fire escape, not down, he said.

"People were calling to him that the building's on fire he needs to get down," and he did, Seto said.

Other witnesses said a woman scrambled down her fire escape in the moments after the explosion. She stopped on the second floor, afraid to go further, and passers-by climbed up to help get her down.

In the aftermath, one person was lying on the ground, being attended to by two to three passers-by who were holding his head still, Seto said. A woman was sitting on the curb with blood coming down her face, and another woman walked past him with blood on her face, he said.

The fire happened little over a year after a gas explosion in a building in East Harlem killed eight people and injured about 50.


Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz, Tom Hays, Verena Dobnik and Kiley Armstrong contributed to this report.


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