As the death and injury tolls continue to rise from the explosion that rocked New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood on Wednesday, details have emerged of heroic rescue efforts by first responders and local heroes on the scene before emergency crews arrived.
The suspected gas explosion, which has taken seven lives and injured at least 70, left piles of burning debris and a billowing plume of thick smoke in the neighborhood after it occurred around 9:30 a.m.
The chaos was captured on photo and video by some residents, while other witnesses immediately kicked into gear, using their bare hands to frantically dig survivors out of the rubble.
David Cesario and Alex Camilo were among those responders, rescuing a young boy trapped under rubble immediately after the explosion. The boy, between 7 and 10 years old, was still clutching a PlayStation controller when the two men found him in shock and pain, they said.
“He was hurt. He was bleeding a lot and he was just saying, with his eyes open, to help him,” Camilo told ABC station WABC.
The pair began working among hot bricks and broken glass to dig the boy out from under the building ruins while the fire continued to burn in front of them.
“I said, 'Don’t worry, you’re going to be okay, so just don’t move,'" Cesario said.
“We just grabbed him and brought him down to the cops and went back," Camilo said.
Others who had gathered around were shooting the scene with their phones and cameras, instead of helping, the pair said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today praised the heroic efforts of firefighters and other emergency crews who arrived one the scene two minutes after the first 911 call was made. De Blasio said crews are still fighting remaining hotspots in the wreckage that were whipped up by high winds overnight and this morning.
“They’ve been fighting through the cold, they’ve been fighting through the wind, exceedingly difficult circumstances and they have stuck with it,” de Blasio said during a news conference. “This city is no stranger to adversity and our first responders exemplify what’s best about New York City -- that we somehow persevere despite everything thrown at us.”