The call to Consolidated Edison came at 9:13 a.m. on Wednesday: The smell of gas, detectable the night before, had strengthened around two buildings by 116th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem.
Less than 20 minutes later, the buildings were gone, leveled by a tremendous explosion whose tremors could be felt more than a mile away.
The blast, which city officials said was touched off by a gas leak, killed at least seven people and wounded at least two dozen more. Rescue workers continued to search the rubble well into the night, hoping to find the nine occupants of the buildings who were still missing late Wednesday. The explosion blew out windows in surrounding buildings and sent debris crashing onto nearby streets. People were trapped in their cars, in the rubble and in neighboring apartments. Others rushed toward the towering plume of flames and smoke, making desperate rescue attempts.
There was little warning, certainly not enough to have safely evacuated the area, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference, near where the buildings once stood at 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue. “This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people,” he said, warning that the search “will take quite a bit of time.”