NEW YORK (REUTERS/AFP/NEW YORK TIMES) - New York firefighters said they are battling a massive blaze in East Harlem on Park Avenue after two buildings collapsed following an explosion reported shortly after 9am on Wednesday.
Officials believe the tragedy might have been triggered by a gas leak.
At least two people had been killed and 18 people injured, said the fire department, adding that it has sent 39 units of equipment and 168 firefighters to the area to fight the five-alarm fire.
“It’s a very active scene. It’s a very chaotic scene,” said Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella.
The blast, reported about 9.30am, was at 1644-66 Park Avenue, another Fire Department spokeswoman Elisheva Zakheim told Bloomberg.
It is unclear how many people were in the collapsed buildings but the authorities said they were responding to reports of people trapped in the rubble. Paramedics have also arrived at the scene, according to local news videos.
Fire trucks used high cranes to spray blasts of water into the rubble, as dozens of ambulances and police cruisers with flashing lights swarmed the scene.
“It was complete shock,” one young woman told WNBC. “It shook my building so hard that I literally thought my building was falling down.”
The woman, who lives around four buildings away, said that right after the explosion, people began running, unsure of what was happening.
"It looked like something fell because it wasn’t like a fire. It just looked like debris smoke, similar to 9/11," a nearby resident told CBS News.
“I saw a lady running with no shoes on. It was crazy. It was like a war zone,” another nearby resident told CBS.
“First of all, I thought it was an earthquake. I got calls from my family who felt it too and that was all the way up town. Man, it was crazy,” he added.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it had suspended all train services in and out of Grand Central Terminal until further notice due to the explosion next to its tracks.
Details are only beginning to emerge.
The New York Police Department at first said that one building had exploded and collapsed, then later said it was investigating reports that the collapse may have involved two buildings.