NEW YORK (AP) New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says people are still missing after an explosion leveled two apartment buildings, killing two people and injuring 18 others.
De Blasio says: "There are a number of missing individuals." He suggests some may have fled to safety and says the city is expending every effort to locate the people who are still unaccounted for.
The mayor urged worried relatives to call 311. A hotline was being set up.
The mayor says Con Edison is shutting down all gas mains going into the building.
He says a gas leak was reported to the utility 15 minutes before the explosion. The explosion occurred before the Con Edison team arrived.
Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee says a resident from a building adjacent to the two that collapsed reported that he smelled gas inside his apartment, but thought the odor could be coming from outside.
McGee says the utility dispatched two crews just after 9:15 a.m., but they arrived just after the explosion. He says the street is served by an eight-inch low-pressure gas main. He would not speculate on whether a gas leak caused the explosion.
Sidewalks for blocks around were littered with broken glass from shattered storefront and apartment windows. Witnesses say the blast neat Park Avenue and 116th Street was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby stores.
Police, some wearing gas masks and medical masks, handed out medical masks to residents and onlookers because of the thick white smoke that shrouded the area.
Eoin Hayes, 26, said the explosion shook his entire apartment building in Harlem at about 9:30 a.m. He ran to the window and saw flames consuming one building and smoke rising into the air.
"I was in my bedroom and the explosion went off, it kind of shook the whole building," Hayes said. "You could feel the vibrations going through the building."
Hayes lives less than 10 blocks from where the explosion happened. He said the fire consumed one building and then moved on to another building adjacent to it, though about 40 minutes later the flames had subsided and there was mostly just smoke. Both buildings appeared to be residential.
"I ran to the window and saw the fire and the smoke going up and the sirens start," Hayes said.
The explosion occurred very close to elevated Metro-North commuter railroad tracks. Metro-North service was suspended to and from Grand Central on all three train lines while employees remove debris from the tracks.
The fire department said it sent nearly 170 members to the scene.
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