Service In East Harlem Marks Anniversary Of Deadly Gas Blast

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Thursday marked one year since a gas explosion brought two buildings to the ground in East Harlem – killing eight people and injuring dozens more.

As CBS2’s Sonia Rincon reported, a memorial service marked the somber anniversary of the explosion at 116th Street and Park Avenue. Five women and three men died: George Amadeo, 44; Rosaura Barrios, 43; her daughter, Rosaura Barrios Hernandez, 22; Griselde Camacho, 44; Mayumi Nakamura, 34; Andreas Panagopoulos, 43; Alexis Jordy Salas, 22; and Carmen Tanco, 67;

Their families and friends had their own painful memories of that day.

About 50 of the victims’ family members were in attendance, along with Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials. Many family members carried a single white rose.

“A year ago, this whole city was rocked by this tragedy,” de Blasio said. “Without warning, a gas leak sparked an explosion and literally for so many families, their worlds changed in just an instant.”

Milagros Valentin remembered how she felt her building shake.

“It was terrible,” Valentin said. “All I could do was cry, cry, cry — not knowing that one of my friends was there.”

Victor Garcia lost his brother.

“I just remember the flames — just thinking about that,” Garcia said. “I wish that he was not in the building at the time.”

Angel Vargas of the Bronx said his cousin, Carmen Tanco, was “a wonderful person.” She was a dental assistant who participated in church-sponsored medical missions to Africa and the Caribbean.

“This is where we used to come for family events when we were little, since we were like 8 or 9 years old,” he told 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa.

Nilda Aguila said there’s sadness, but her cousin, Griselde Camacho, has gone to a better place.

“I know she doesn’t have asthma anymore, she’s healthy,” she told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane. “It’s been very mixed emotions.”

One man whose business was destroyed in the blast has since rebuilt, but he still thinks of the victims.

“One of them, George Amadeo, used to greet me from his window every morning,” he told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond. “I miss that terribly.”

Families and city leaders gathered around a new tree honoring the victims for a moment of silence. The cherry tree, which will soon blossom, was donated by the Urban Garden Center across the street at 1640 Park Ave. — destroyed in the blast and since rebuilt under the Metro-North Harlem Line tracks.

The planter was made out of a beam from one of the buildings.

Nearby, plastic and real flowers now adorn the fence that encloses the barren, icy lot where the buildings once stood. There are pictures of some of the dead.

The ceremony also included a moment of silence and children singing “Tomorrow” from “Annie.”

PHOTOS: East Harlem Explosion | The Day After

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district includes the neighborhood, pointed to its strength and spirit.

“It is at times like these that we remember what people from El Barrio/East Harlem, are made of,” she said.

Valentin said people indeed did step in to help each other following the blast.

“Everybody was helping everybody with clothing, food, anything,” she said.

Mayor de Blasio also praised the spirit of the neighborhood, and of New Yorkers as a whole.

“Too often we have known tragedy, but every time, we have seen that strength and goodness, and that response.”

The sudden explosion rocked the neighborhood about 15 minutes after someone reported smelling gas in a nearby building, authorities said.

In addition to the deaths, the explosion left more than 60 people injured and displaced more than 100 others.

Officials say they believe the blast resulted from a leak in a 127-year-old cast-iron gas main serving the buildings.

Con Edison issued a statement saying it is has been “implementing many new initiatives to enhance public safety and raise public awareness about natural gas delivery.”

“Con Edison has increased significantly the frequency of gas leak patrols throughout our service areas of Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester and parts of Queens,” the utility said. “We now survey our 4,300 miles of gas mains an average of once per month, as opposed to once per year as required by state and federal codes.”

Calls about gas odors have also gone up about 40 percent, and Con Ed says it welcomes every one of those calls.

“The biggest thing to learn is that we are partners with the public,” said Con Ed spokesman Philip O’Brien. “We need your help. We need to know if you do smell gas.”

O’Brien advised anyone who smells gas should call 911 right away.

“We also now have an online map which shows the current street gas leak reports that have been validated and made safe, and those that are under repair,” he said.

Charisma Rushin felt the explosion a year ago. She said she has never had to report a gas leak.

“But I would today, because you just never know,” she said. “You don’t want to go to sleep and it could be your apartment.”

The National Transportation Board hasn’t yet issued a final determination of what caused the blast.
The investigation into the leak that caused the deadly explosion a year ago is expected to continue for some time.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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