Three buildings have collapsed and a fourth is in flames after an apparent explosion in the East Village. Nineteen people — including five firefighters — have been injured and four have been hospitalized in critical condition, the fire department said.
An FDNY spokesperson couldn’t say what caused 121 Second Avenue to collapse around 3:15 p.m. this afternoon, but eyewitnesses reported hearing what sounded like an explosion. Flames from the building spread first to the adjacent building (123), which collapsed after the fire went to seven alarms, and then to 119 Second Avenue, on the corner of East Seventh Street. As of 10:30pm tonight, that building had also collapsed and firefighters were battling a fourth blaze at 125 Second Avenue.
A street busker who was at Gem Spa, on the block where the explosion occurred, described what he saw when he rushed over to 121 Second Avenue. “The front of the building just came off, the whole front of the building,” he said. “This poor lady walks right out of her living room right onto her fire escape.”
The busker, who declined to give his name, said he saw a woman pulled from underneath rubble by a pedestrian who said it happened to be his first day in New York.
A “rogue off-duty firefighter,” the witness said, climbed up the fire escape and rescued the woman there.
The witness said he initially didn’t see a fire after the explosion, but a blaze eventually broke out.
The fire department has not yet determined a cause of the explosion. Adam Wanamaker, a student of Cooper Union, said an acquaintence smelled gas in the area. “I just spoke to a custodian I know who was walking by the building and smelled gas. When she reached the end of the street she heard an explosion.”
Karen Biernert, a resident of 125 Second Avenue, two doors down from the collapsed building, said, “I looked out the window and there was a guy lying on the street.” She later saw someone put into an ambulance. “It sounded like a big explosion and the frames came off the wall,” she added. “I looked outside and it just looked like a bomb had gone off.”
The owner of Enz’s, who didn’t want to give her name, said her entire storefront shattered. She initially thought it was the work of vandals but then saw people running from the blast.
The scene was chaotic when we arrived. Firefighters and police offers pushed spectators back from the scene, telling them, “It could blow again.”
Sam’s Deli and Grocery and an adjacent E-Nail salon also had their glass blown out.
An NYU student whose dorm was evacuated, Joanie Educate, said she was taking a nap when she heard a loud boom. “It looked like the Pommes Frites building was just blown out. The front of the building was in the street.”
“They were dragging people out of it all covered in dust and stuff and they were puking,” she said.
Albina Gjyrevci told us, “At first just one building was on fire and then it spread to the one next to it. Orange flames rose to the sky.”
Lori Jones, a resident of 14 St. Marks Place, said she heard a boom that she described as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. “It shook my building,” she said.
Police officers have cordoned off multiple blocks near the blast site.
About an hour after the initial blast, two B+B reporters felt a noticeable rumble in the area. Bystanders asked each other if they had also felt the tremor.
Update, 5:35pm: City Council Member Rosie Mendez has issued a statement: “Today our community’s heart is breaking. My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragedy. I am working closely with emergency services, my colleagues in government and with community leaders to respond to this horrible event. I thank the people of New York for the outpouring of concern and support. We pray for the victims and their families.”
Update, 5:55pm At a press conference, fire and emergency management officials said the fire department is also fighting a blaze at 119 Second Avenue, which is in danger of collapse.
Of the 12 people injured, two went to the hospital with burns to their airways and another became unconscious after the blast, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
According to ConEd president Craig Ivy, ConEd was inside of 123 Second Avenue around 2pm, about an hour before the blast occurred, to determine whether it was suitable for a gas upgrade. It failed the inspection.
Neither 911 nor ConEd received complaints of a gas leak in the area, Mayor De Blasio said.
ConEd announced on Twitter that it was shutting down gas “in the #EastVillage area of 2nd Ave.”
Red Cross representatives are now at PS 63, at 121 East 3rd Street, where anyone with housing issues is encouraged to go. Residents are advised to keep windows closed and avoid going outside while the fire remains active.
Update, 6:15pm Some photos and videos of the scene from around the web:
Major explosion on 2nd ave and 7th street. New Yorkers being awesome and helping this young lady get down! pic.twitter.com/YxGh2C68IP
— Niraj Desai (@nayramz) March 26, 2015
Update, 8:05pm: This story has been revised to reflect new information. The fire department now reports 19 injuries, including 5 firefighters. Seven of the civilian injuries are minor to serious but not life threatening, four are critical, and three people refused medical attention. Part of 119 Second Avenue has now collapsed and the fire remains at seven alarms.
At this time, authorities are only letting people cross Second Avenue at East 11th Street and above, or East 5th Street and below.
Update, 9:05pm: Here’s the scene outside of PS 63:
Josh Lockwood, Regional CEO of the Red Cross, said the organization is prepared to open an emergency shelter if necessary, either at the school or possibly another location yet to be decided.
So far about two dozen displaced people have registered at the temporary shelter, located at 121 East 3rd Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, but Lockwood expects that number will rise as people return home from work. For residents who are still reeling from the explosion, the shelter is a safe haven where people can get clean clothes, a hot meal, financial assistance and mental health support.
“People are in shock,” Lockwood said. “We’re here to help them process the day’s events and help them think about the next couple of days and how they’ll get through.”
Several local businesses have offered their assistance; Fresh & Co. brought sandwiches, and a local soup kitchen donated 250 hot meals. The Standard East Village has offered a free three-night stay to anyone who has an ID to prove they live in the affected buildings. And Uber is offering free rides “from East Village/2nd Ave area,” per a tweet.
Update, 10:30pm: This post was revised to reflect new information. A fire department spokesperson says three buildings (119, 121 and 123 Second Avenue) have now collapsed and a fourth, 125 Second Avenue, remains on fire.
Update, 11:30pm: NYU has occupants of its Seventh Street Residence Hall, located almost directly across from the collapsed buildings, “cannot return to that hall tonight—and may be unable to return tomorrow.” Displaced students have been instructed to go to Palladium Hall for accommodations. Classes or rehearsals normally held at NYU’s facilities at 111 and 113 Second Avenue, a block away from the site of the incident, have been relocated or cancelled for Friday. The school’s Barney Building, at 34 Stuyvesant Street, was also closed today.
Frank Prisinzano, owner of Frank (which closed in the wake of the explosion) as well as Lil Frankies, Supper, and Sauce, has offered a free meal to anyone who lost their home.
The FDNY has tweeted this photo, showing the state of the buildings as of tonight:
— FDNY (@FDNY) March 27, 2015
March 27, 12:45am: The Office of Emergency Management has announced that an East Village Resident Service Center will open at 331 E. 10th Street at 8am.
2:20am: The photo below shows the complete devastation on the corner of East 7th and Second Avenue.
At this time the FDNY still has four tower ladders at the scene, according to a spokesperson who said it would be sometime before the fire could be declared under control. Demolition vehicles have moved into the area for the next phase, which will involve moving the debris around to uncover pockets of fire.
This story is developing and this post will be updated and revised as new information comes in.
Reporting by Jaime Cone, Kelsey Doyle, Daniel Maurer, Anna Perczak, Goldie Poll, Carmen Cuesta Roca