Casualties Reported in East Harlem Building Explosion

Closed-off surrounding streets are covered with shattered glass and debris.
3:00 | 03/12/14

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Transcript for Casualties Reported in East Harlem Building Explosion
This is a special room. And you are looking at huge plumes of smoke rising right now from a building complex in New York City. East Harlem the site of an explosion that caused the roofs of two buildings to collapse. At this hour we are told two people are killed confirmed in more nearly seventeen others reported injured. This disease Harlem it's just north of Central Park here in Manhattan the surrounding and seen streets closed off. Covered in shattered glass and debris. Good afternoon I'm Michelle Franzen in New York with an ABC news digital special report let's go live now on the scene with ABC's Brian Smith. -- please give us an update of what you're hearing on the ground. Okay Michelle thank -- right now as you mentioned we're hearing reports of -- the tally seventeen injured know what we're seeing. Is more and more fire department workers rushing to the building we're seeing just now right over the side of me the department of buildings con Edison. Making their way over to the building that literally is about a block away from me. In the area we've been talking to people on the ground many of them saying they heard an explosion. Debris flying everywhere. And -- one woman told -- she immediately saw fire rising stories high so right now. You've got con Edison you've got the fire department all on the scene trying to assess the damage. And just trying to figure out if there -- any other people in that building -- an end and assess whatever they can find at this. Point and Ryan we are looking at aerial. Visuals right now the smoke still a very big hindrance for all those firefighters more than 168. At least on the scene there and a very active scene as you mentioned the -- reports. About Connor con Edison. And their timeline of a reported gas leak -- crews that were dispatched and arrived just after. The explosion can you give us an idea of what you're hearing there as well. Yes. You mentioned it perfectly there too residents called -- mentioned that they smelled something of a -- like they were smelling gas in their apartments. Con Edison was called dispatched and they were in -- At the time the explosion happened so we're seeing a lot of con Edison officials -- milling about trying to assess the damage. We're hearing now from federal law enforcement sources that they believe it's a gas explosion that -- everything but if we can push and a little bit you mention the idea of assessing the damage. It's very difficult because some of the buildings seem to have caved in a little bit so we can see see fire -- right there on some elevated platforms. Just trying to get a sense of the the view that's one of the troubles in this. From our view you can see there's the building still have some -- but many people that we spoke to on the ground said they saw a collapsed building. So they're still trying to assess what's going on. Well on a short time we're supposed to be hearing from New York City mayor build applause EO on the part of a collapsed building and that -- of course as you mentioned. It is still very active in that scene they not only have to get the fire out there also searching for more people correct and also. Determining what other buildings are damaged. That's correct they have to take time to try to find out if other people are in their other people are in harm's way and we're also hearing that around the block. All around me. They started telling people not to go into their homes for at least four to six hours. Because they're trying to make sure there's no damage in different other places around here one woman telling me. That a window was blown out right next toward her and she's about a block and a half away so this explosion really reverberating in the entire area many people told us. They felt the ground shake that's how powerful it was. And so right now police will continue and fire department officials as well continue to try to see if anybody else is still in harm's way. And you mentioned that just shattering glass debris in this the rumbling in that area just -- set the scene there we understand there's also the elevated. A rare -- their of the metro north. Right there's a railroad right that the metro north train is right around us I don't know if we can see some of this but you see a bridge right here that's where the metro north -- It's a lot of the people I talked to said we were just getting off the -- from north. -- when you talk about when this explosion happened it happened around 9 AM in the morning. I've talked to a lot of parents one woman told me. If I had been -- been just a couple minutes late dropping off my child we might have been in the middle of that debris. We might have been in the middle of that explosion scary thought when you think about that but you've got the train right here. And right across the street you have construction. Brings up another big point. We talk to two gentlemen earlier today who -- working construction across the street they heard the explosion. And they immediately ran to the building to see if they could help. One of the men telling us that they saw four people injured including the young boy that one man said it's -- seven to ten years old. And they were all white covered in -- some covered in rocks. They helped pull these people out. And get them to safety before police came in and told everyone to clear the area. But were already starting to hear stories of heroes. Trying to do whatever they can to help people in the middle of that explosion. I think Ryan we're gonna continue to hear those stories as these hours move on when you look at the the aerials you can just see the debris in the streets. In those the blocks surrounding those buildings I imagine. At that has also slowed down firefighters who had to work through that debris to get to where they need to get that fire out. It has indeed and there was also construction projects in the areas that they're trying to manage their way through all of this. Not to mention the fact in this one a lot of residents are saying is well there's still -- sick sense of smoke in this area might not be able to see it as well and camera. But they're still plumes of smoke coming from the building so the air has that. A city feel you can. Kind of feel it filling your lungs little -- people are starting to put on masks and the concern being not only trying to get to the area but our people safe. In trying to expect trying to assess the area. You know this is a very active scene you know you've got to -- firefighters police on on hand just to keep the public at a safe distance. We've been watching also this plane out and social media. Video that has been sent to -- are taken by area. Residents in that area that captured just before we've also seen a lot of thought Twitter activity. So certainly this is where a lot of those stories we'll start to play out as well and again we want to read a little bit of this one. Person rode in on Twitter on my way to work and then boom building explosion collapse on 116. Street. Another wrote explosion in east Harlem building collapse on -- 116 and -- so this is how. All that began this morning and of course again police firefighters still on scene on this active scene trying to make sense of it. Again we're expected to hear from the the mayor in just a short time but I want to ask you Ryan since -- there are you getting a sense at all of are we hearing anything about a search for anyone missing. Right now we're getting reports -- stream in slowly we're just hearing about people that have already been taken to the hospital. But one of the buildings we know had six residents in at a church as well and a boiler room so the question becomes. Where their people in that church to the residents make it out okay. So we're getting these reports that are streaming in really from the hospital not necessarily from the search. But a lot of the residents are concerned because he mentioned how close this -- to the train this is a busy area about a block up. And he can't see it from here you see a fire truck right over my shoulder. That's where -- -- right over my shoulder right over here that's where the metro north train station is so around 9 o'clock. It's going to get very busy it's going to get extremely crowded and people will be going to and from work so the concern becomes. Where people in that area are -- people affected right around there and so as we get these reports will bring them to you but. At this point we only know about the people in the hospital seventeen. People reported to have. Minor injuries were still waiting for more word on that and then two fatalities. One man in serious condition. So we're still waiting for more of those reports. And you mentioned that let's go back to Conn add that it's been on the ground -- said that that -- timeline can you give us a sense again in the morning how that timeline broke out when. Con -- received a call when they got there. Yes early this morning slightly before 9 o'clock con Edison received a phone call. Apparently two different phone calls from residents saying they had -- smell of gas. In their apartments so con Edison immediately came out and they were in route. Right around 9 o'clock in the morning eastern time when they actually when the explosion happened so they work quite here at that point and as we understand -- some of the residents were outside of the building. Some sources telling us that. There have been a couple of different gas checks in buildings around Manhattan I actually live in a building in Manhattan where we had. But we were evacuated couple days earlier because there was thoughts of -- ghastly because the weather has been changing. In New York City so in many ways that could have been part of the problem and I mentioned before a federal source telling us a federal law enforcement source telling us. That a gas explosion was the cause but we're still waiting for more details on that but. Con Edison it seems was just blocks away when that explosion occurred. Of course looking at everything they have two -- -- process of elimination but as you mentioned there's also federal authorities on the scene to helping out. With the lead investigators cracked. Right FBI others federal sources here trying to figure out what the situation is the department of buildings just passed by us as well. So and then as you mentioned mayor -- -- Bosnia will be here soon they'll be a press conference as well. But the issue right now will be. Trying to assess trying to see if anyone -- in harm's way around the area. And trying to make sure that folks are safe because when you have an explosion like this where buildings have been flattened -- -- -- in some places still seems to be up. There's concern about structural damage to the building that's -- overall about a block and a half away. So the concern is is there continued structural damage -- that other people could be. Harm's way you know Ryan we've been watching some of this video from earlier of people holding up scars to their face we've seen some reporters with masks on we can see the heavy smoke in the background and also the aerials. But how it's just enveloping. Parts of Manhattan give us an idea of what you. -- are smelling and seeing at this time. It's an acidic smell in the -- kind of it fills your lungs. As if the fire is almost right next to you so you're getting that. You're getting that smoke deal all around the area. And again we're about a block and a half away the other thing I've noticed this you see plumes of smoke over my shoulder from time to time. They're not necessarily dissipating they continue to grow at different periods of time to dissipate the -- a little bit more. Leading you to believe is if something is there's these -- some kind of issues still going on. But there's definitely -- thick smoky steel in the air and as I look out to some of the people have gathered. Lot of people are wearing masks and many people have stepped away one woman talked me earlier said. That her son and see live about a block away and that she wanted to get out of here just because she was worried about the smokes now on how -- smoke filling her lungs might affect her or her child. And we've seen some video of people being loaded into ambulances -- to nearby hospitals. Is there anyone on scene there -- helping people. Deal with just the stress of what's happened this morning. Not that we see as of yet we are seeing NYPD in the crowd. Many people have moved away. But you mentioned seeing people on stretchers we talked to one man earlier. Who said he saw somebody being brought on a stretcher police have been focused on pushing people away from the scene. Just to make sure there not anywhere near anything that could happen. But in terms of people in the crowd helping folks get over what's happening in at least try to. Deal with it makes some sense out of what's going on nobody that we see at this moment but I'm -- folks in this area we'll need a lot of help because. As I talked to one residents he said when -- heard the explosion. Thought look at this heat is that the train is it something else near -- and and I think that shock is what's resonating with people in the. Area right now and you know you mentioned yet happened in a residential area happened in a residential building but it's surrounded by. Other buildings other businesses and the metro train there metro train there as you mentioned the -- so very very busy time -- very concentrated area of New York City. The very hustling and bustling area at that time. Right and you talk about the time of day the time of day when parents take their kids to school so as I've canvassed parents in the audit in the crowd. They've all been saying. Thank goodness I took my kid to school on time thank goodness I wasn't coming at a train station again right up the block right across the street from the building. Thank goodness I wasn't coming out of that train station at the time the explosion happened. Because as one woman told me. She was about a half a block away. -- -- -- -- Then debris everywhere she turns around and cease fire rising up. So that's the scene that she saw. And you know Ryan give me an idea a you know we've. We can get a sense here of the dozens of units that are on hand here trying to battle this -- where well over. Almost three hours and in this yet it where a waiting for some real details on this this gives us an idea of just the the challenges that. The firefighters are facing it's still at this hour. They're trying to deal with an outer structure that is somewhat elevated by the way you might have just seen at DMY walking right past -- they've been going back and forth. They're dealing with an outer structure that seems to still have some integrity putting in are structured it seems to have collapsed so it's not as -- you can just walk into the structure. And deal with whatever might be happening inside the other thing is with the gas explosion like this structural integrity of the buildings becomes key. And you get in and then get out so we're seeing a lot of firefighters. On aerial platforms. Trying to figure out -- way in. To try to get a sense of what's going on. And it is a major commute rail line there. Halted us at this time are you hearing any word of when or if it might be running again later today. Not looking -- we're not hearing about the -- just yet they're saying they need time to assess the we're not sure when that's going to be up and running again. We are hearing that for people who live on this block even people who -- across the street a block away. They were being told that they weren't allowed to go back into their apartments for 46 hours. Depending on where they are in that building so people who have left animals one woman told me she left the dog inside and how -- to get back to her dog. People who have left but their lives inside their buildings right now trying to get a sense of when they can go back in but as for the trains they're not sure when that'll be up and running. ABC's Ryan Smith thank you so much at the scene at this huge deadly explosion were gonna let you get on with what you need to do to report as well. Thank you for your report and of course this story as well as the mayor's -- press conference will street right here on And certainly you can keep up with everything that you need to you by downloading the ABC news -- And also star in this story to get the latest of the information that you need this has been an ABC news digital breaking news report I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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