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CBS 2 Exclusive: Video Shows East Harlem Blast In Progress

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An exclusive video obtained by CBS 2 showed the deadly blast that took down two buildings in East Harlem as it happened.

As CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported, the video was shot by a security camera mounted on a building across the street from the scene at Park Avenue off 116th Street.

First, video from a camera pointing north on Park Avenue shows windows shattering seemingly out of nowhere, and debris begins raining down onto the sidewalk.

PHOTOS: East Harlem Explosion | The Day After

Then, on the opposite side of the street, a cloud of thick, black smoke begins to envelop everything as the buildings explode.

A man walking across the street is nearly knocked off his feet by the blast. He ducks, tries to cover his head, and is then pushed back in a state of apparent disorientation.

The man was caught up in a tornado of paper and pieces of flying debris as the windows shattered.

Meanwhile, a tree and a “no parking” sign struggle to stay upright in the midst of a fierce blast.

Another camera was pointing the opposite angle, South on Park Avenue. Windows across the street are seen shattering and sending glass raining down on cars below, before the plume of smoke appears.

Now — to a camera pointing the opposite angle — south on Park Avenue.

Watch again — as the initial concussion blows across the street — shattering windows and sending glass raining down on cars below. Afterward, a powerful eruption and a vast plume of black smoke are seen as the buildings begin to fall. Finally, white dust fills the screen.

“I thought it was an earthquake,” said Red Cross Shelter victim Ibrahim Occasion. “It was an explosion, like, connected to your building, so it’s insane stuff.”

Those who witnessed the explosion said the images — and the fear — are impossible to forget.

“I looked up — the building was gone; the smoke coming out and it was piling up,” witness Mac Mayor said shortly after the incident.

“I just like felt like I was on the battlefield,” said witness Anthony Betterflicks, a military veteran.

A mountain of rubble was left in the aftermath, and hundreds of emergency responders have been digging for hours on end.

A single wall remained Friday afternoon now, as workers searched for victims and survivors.

Vehicles pulled from the site seared images of the deadly blast. In a sport-utility vehicle, a car seat in the back was mangled and pinned beneath rocks and chunks of concrete.

An ambulette was left demolished, its inside disheveled and covered with thick gray dust.

As investigators searched for what caused the explosion, the exclusive images will serve as a key clue. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board has expressed interest in viewing the video to help them piece together the timeline, chain of events, and sheer power of a blast that’s left an entire city shaken.

The NTSB has also asked first-hand witnesses to contact the agency by e-mail at witness@ntsb.gov.

The blast killed eight people and left more than 60 others injured. Police had said earlier that at least one person was still unaccounted for, but Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano said Friday that no one else was believed to be missing.

As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, investigators and Con Edison crews were still looking Friday night for the apparent gas leak that caused the explosion. Emergency crews must finish clearing the blast site before NTSB crews move in to begin pressure-testing pipes under the streets.

As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, investigators and Con Edison crews were still looking Friday night for the apparent gas leak that caused the explosion. Emergency crews must finish clearing the blast site before NTSB crews move in to begin pressure-testing pipes under the streets.

NTSB member Robert Sumwalt revealed Friday that Con Ed crews found a concentration of as high as 20 percent natural gas below ground near the scene of the blast, where there should have been no gas at all. He also revealed that the gas main buried under Park Avenue near the scene at 116th Street dated back 127 years to 1887.

CBS 2 is told investigators are also looking at the odor of the gas that goes through the line nearby. Because natural gas is odorless, companies are required to add a scent so that people can smell a leak.

Meanwhile, rescue teams hope they have found the last of the victims. FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano said Friday that there were eight missing people, and eight bodies were recovered – but the search will continue to make sure nobody else was in the buildings at the time of the blast.

“We’re hoping that sometime tomorrow we’ll have it all cleared so we can get to the basement to start our investigation,” Cassano said.

And the Red Cross on Friday night was preparing to close its shelter for explosion survivors at the 125th Street Salvation Army shelter. But the Real Estate Board of New York has offered 34 apartments where displaced families can stay for three months.

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