UPDATED 03/27/15 12:21 a.m.
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Witnesses rushed to the aid of their neighbors during the the devastating explosion and fire in the East Village Thursday afternoon, and some said they were lucky to be alive.READ MORE: NYC Mourning NYPD Officers Wilbert Mora, Jason Rivera After Deadly Ambush In Harlem
As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported exclusively, one man, Austin Branda, rescued a woman from the building at 121 Second Ave. before it erupted in flames along with its neighbor to the north and collapsed.
Photos from the scene showed the woman escaping the building, lowering herself into Branda’s arms just seconds after the explosion – and just before the flames began roaring.
Branda watched as the woman struggled with the ladders of the fire escape, and froze in fear.
“I noticed a lady up on the fire escape, and everybody was telling her to try and release the cage coming down, and she didn’t know how to do it,” Branda said.
Branda was in his apartment across the street and was knocked off his seat by the explosion. He quickly ran downstairs, when he noticed the woman in danger and helped her get out alive.
“I jumped on a chair that was next to the building, and I tried to help from there, and she finally released the thing,” he said.
Terrified with only her cell phone and wallet, the woman lowered herself from the building into Branda’s arms.
“I’m a little skinny and wiggly. These guys were big guys and they would have caught her. But she was just too scared to jump,” Branda said. “She wasn’t bleeding. She appeared to be shocked — very shocked.”
Afterward, witnesses said another man ran back up the fire escape to check for anyone still left in the building.
As the fire began to grow, witnesses could be heard shouting to get out and move away from the building. Finally, the sirens of the Fire Department were heard as they arrived on scene, about three minutes after the explosion.
One man was walking right past the buildings on Second Avenue at 7th Street right when the explosion happened.
“I was basically walking down from the Lower East Side, and I made the last-minute decision to go to Fresco, and I saw this happen. I saw a huge explosion,” he told 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten. “The complete structure of the middle building collapsed, and the glass was all over, so I just basically ducked and I started running.”