Update: Death toll rises in East Harlem explosion, seven dead


Update: Death toll rises in East Harlem explosion, seven dead

By Julianne Cassidy. CREATED Mar 12, 2014

An explosion Wednesday in East Harlem, N.Y., has claimed the life of at least seven people and injured more than 60 others as two buildings were leveled at Park Avenue and 116th Street. A search party for those still missing and an investigation into the cause of the explosion continue at this time.

"Investigators found the bodies of two adult males and one adult female this morning [March 13]," confirms ABC News. "An additional body was pulled out of the rubble after dawn. Two of the victims have been identified so far – Griselde Camacho, who worked as a public safety officer at Hunter College, and Carmen Tanco, 67."

The 9:30 a.m. (EST) five-alarm fire collapsed two 5-story buildings. One housed apartments with a piano shop below and the other was a church.

Utility Con Edison had two crews on their way to the area minutes before the blast, after it received a call at 9:13 a.m. from a resident reporting a gas smell. There were 250 firefighters total plus equipment tending to the rubble all day on March 12.

"Speaking from the scene, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the explosion appeared to be caused by a gas leak," reports CBS 2. Once the fire is secure, a search party will begin looking for trapped victims under the rubble, as numerous people are still missing. A hotline is also being arranged, however, worried family members of residents can call 311.

An eyewitness, Mack Mayor, told CBS 2, “I was home and then next thing you know I’m laying down and I hear this big explosion. I came out, looked up and a building was just gone. It’s just like a war zone out here.” Another witness, Samuel Paul, chillingly said, “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."

Carmen Vargas-Rosa, owner of the church, told CBS 2 that churchgoers smelled gas outside the church last night. Four of Vargas-Rosa's tenants remain unaccounted for. “One of them was off from work so most likely she was in the building,” said Vargas-Rosa. “We have a mother who has a sick son, so unless they were at an appointment in the hospital, they may have been in the explosion, and then we have a young man and his wife who go to school late so they may have been sleeping and we can’t reach them.”

Terrorism has been ruled out by the NYPD, however, a bomb squad and the FBI are currently on the scene. The Red Cross is also on location at nearby PS 157 with food and water for those affected by home evacuations.

Please note: According to ABC News, "A New York City official said the situation was fluid and the 'numbers are going to change.'"

Click here for our GALLERY of the devastation post-explosion. 

Julianne Cassidy

Julianne Cassidy

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A city girl gone country, Philadelphia-bred journalist Julianne Cassidy relocated to be a Nashville-based digital editor for Scripps Media, Inc.