Two New York City apartment buildings were flattened Wednesday after one of them exploded following an apparent gas leak.
Eight people were killed and at least 64 people were injured in the blast, with two suffering life-threatening injuries, New York Fire Department officials said Thursday. Five people remain missing.
"It felt like an earthquake had rattled my whole building," Waldemar Infante, a porter who was working in a basement nearby, told The Associated Press. "There were glass shards everywhere on the ground, and all the stores had their windows blown out."
A tenant in one of the destroyed buildings, Ruben Borrero, said that residents had complained to the landlord about the smell of gas as recently as Tuesday, a day before the disaster.
A few weeks ago, Borrero said, city fire officials were called about the odor, which he said was so bad that a tenant on the top floor broke open the door to the roof for ventilation.
"It was unbearable," Borrero, who lived in a second-floor apartment with his mother and sister, told AP. "You walk in the front door and you want to turn around and walk directly out."
Con Edison's Bob McGee told NY1 News that the energy company received a call about a gas odor from a resident at 1652 Park Avenue at 9:13 a.m. The explosion, near Park Avenue and 116th Street in East Harlem, happened at 9:30 a.m.
Sidewalks for blocks were littered with broken glass from shattered storefront and apartment windows. Witnesses say the blast was so powerful it knocked groceries off the shelves of nearby stores.
The neighborhood stood at a standstill as police set up barricades to keep residents away from the building, which was spewing thick, acrid smoke into the air, watering people's eyes.
Some wore surgical masks, and others held their hands or scarves over their faces.
Through tears, Jennifer Salas, 20, who lives in one of the collapsed buildings, told The New York Times that her husband, Jordy Salas, was in the building at the time of the collapse and was still missing.
"There's six floors in the building; each floor has one apartment," she said. "Last night it smelled like gas, but then the smell vanished and we all went to sleep. We tried to find the source of the gas, but since the smell left, we all went to sleep."
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, the mayor said that the Fire Department responded within two minutes of the explosion, and nearly 250 firefighters were at the scene of the collapse.
De Blasio added that the explosion was likely caused by a gas leak. Con Edison is working with New York City fire officials to determine the exact cause. Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said the Fire Department is currently focused on extinguishing the blaze at the site of the collapse before removing debris and searching for survivors.
The National Transportation Safety Board is dispatching a team of officials to New York to investigate the explosion.
The site is next to Metro-North commuter railroad tracks. Train service has been halted to and from Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal.
Al Jazeera and wire services