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Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 12:30pm

Apartment Building Explodes In Harlem, Killing At Least 2

This post was updated at 3:50 p.m. ET.

New York firefighters are responding to an explosion and collapse of two buildings in the Harlem area of Manhattan, one a five-story apartment complex. Officials say that a preliminary investigation shows that a gas leak was the probable cause of the explosion and that two people were dead and at least 20 injured.

The fire department says the explosion occurred at 1646 Park Ave and that the injured include two life threatening, five serious but non-life threatening and 15 minor. Some reports have placed the number of injured higher.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at a news conference, described the incident, which occurred at about 9:30 a.m. ET, as "a tragedy of the worst kind."

He said that there were people still missing from the blast that affected buildings in an around the center of the explosion. He said the response to the explosion would "be an extended operation."

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said the building where the explosion was thought to have occurred "appears not to be there anymore."

Con Ed tweets that its workers were responding to a report of a gas odor at 1652 Park. The utility says the call came in at 9:13 a.m. and that crews were dispatched a few minutes later and arrived on the scene after the explosion.

De Blasio said preliminary reports are that there was no indication of a problem before that call.

It's the first major emergency since de Blasio took office.

Officials say there was no major damage to other buildings in the area, but Beverly MacFarlane, who lives a block away, tells NPR's Joel Rose that when she rushed back from work after hearing about the explosion, she found "my pictures ... on my wall [were] on the floor."

Live television footage from the scene shows at least four fire department ladders squads pouring water on the burning debris as heavy smoke billowed off the wreckage.

The New York Times says witnesses reported hearing what sounded like an explosion before the collapse occurred.

CBS New York quotes one witness, Samuel Paul, as saying the building suddenly shook.

"We saw a whole lot of smoke. A lot of smoke came out," Paul told CBS 2. "There's a lot of dark smoke still coming out. A lot of fire engines I saw going to 125th Street."

"The smoke started to rise. It looked like something fell because it wasn't like a fire. It just looked like debris smoke, similar to 9/11," he added.

The Daily News quotes another witness, Ashley Rivera, as saying "for weeks [tenants] have been smelling gas."

Rivera said when the explosion occurred, "We saw people flying out of the window ... Those are my neighbors."

Reuters says commuter trains were stopped on nearby tracks and passengers were ordered off the Metro-North Railroad cars at the Fordham stop in the Bronx, passengers said.

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