Officials cite single complaint minutes before blast as only warning of fatal East Harlem explosion

A victim is evacuated by emergency personal near an apparent building explosion fire and collapse in the Harlem section of New York City, March 12, 2014. Credit: Reuters
A victim is evacuated by emergency personal near an apparent building explosion fire and collapse in the Harlem section of New York City, March 12, 2014. Credit: Reuters

A lone call to Con Edison some 15 minutes before an explosion leveled two East Harlem buildings Wednesday was the only warning authorities received before the fatal blast, officials said Thursday.

At least eight people, including four men and three women, died and approximately 40 people were injured during the explosion, officials said. As of Thursday night, several people were still missing.

Two buildings, at 1644 and 1646 Park Ave. near 116th Street, were destroyed after the 9:31 a.m. blast, which officials believe was sparked by a gas leak.

Though some locals reported a longtime smell of gas in the neighborhood, officials said the only recent complaint came to Con Edison at 9:13 a.m. that morning. The caller, a resident of an adjacent apartment, even admitted to smelling gas the night before but failed to alert authorities.

“Now he didn’t call the night before, but he included that in the conversation when he reported the call at 9:13,” Con Edison CEO John McAvoy said during a briefing Thursday. He added that this indicates the leak “likely started well before the 9:13 call.”

Con Edison said that only two gas leak calls, in May 2013 and January 2011, were received on the Park Avenue block in the last three years. Both calls were related to internal equipment and repaired the day they were received.

The fire department also cited no 911 or 311 calls relative to a gas leak in the last 30 days at either collapsed building or in the surrounding area.

Responding to the 9:13 a.m. report on Wednesday, Con Edison crews arrived on scene after the buildings began to collapse, typical of the company’s 22-minute average response time for normal calls.

“It was categorized as a low priority and it was a low priority,” McAvoy said after the briefing.

If Con Edison received more than one call reporting the smell of gas, the company would have sent the complaint to the fire department rather than dispatching its own teams. Other factors that upgrade gas calls to emergency status include reports of additional problems, like flickering lights.

“Had calls come in earlier than that [9:13 a.m. report], the likelihood of us being able to address it is good because we address calls like this all the time,” McAvoy said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials urged New Yorkers to report the smell of gas to Con Edison or the city, even if they don’t think it’s an emergency.

“A gas leak call is not treated as business as usual,” de Blasio said.

To file a report, call 311 or ConEd, at 800-75-CONED (26633).

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders


Ex-Bitcoin official to plead guilty to Silk Road…

Bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem has reached a plea deal to resolve U.S. charges that he engaged in a scheme to sell over $1 million of…


China's army changes tactics to prepare for war…

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will spur military innovation and called on the army to create a new strategy for "information warfare" as…


California passes 'yes-means-yes' campus sexual assault bill

Californian lawmakers passed a law on Thursday requiring universities to adopt "affirmative consent" language in their definitions of consensual sex, part of a nationwide drive to curb sexual assault on…


Syrian refugees top 3 million, half of all…

By Stephanie NebehayGENEVA (Reuters) - Three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday, but many remain trapped by the advance…


What's new on Netflix in September

September has a supernatural theme for Netflix. UFO "documentaries" and the survivalist reality series "Doomsday Preppers" are among the new series coming to the online…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…


Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.


Criterion's new Jacques Demy box mixes the light…

Jacques Demy, the most effervescent of French New Wave filmmakers, gets a Criterion box all to himself, with classics like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."


3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.


NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.


Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.


Twitter used to track down sources of food…

When Chicago health officials saw Twitter users complaining about local food poisoning episodes, they reached out on Twitter to those users and often ended up…


Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.


Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…


4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…