New York Daily News
One person was killed in a massive morning explosion that blew the roof off a Queens apartment building, rattling the neighborhood Tuesday before firefighters evacuated its 40 apartments and several adjacent residences, authorities said.
A penthouse apartment atop the six floors below was severely damaged by the 10:25 a.m. blast that left a column of bricks leaning ominously over the street below. The Buildings Department was on the Jackson Heights scene checking on the structural stability of the building on 41st St. near 73rd St. Residents told they will need to wait 48 hours to re-enter their homes.
“It was a big explosion, fire and everything,” said Nikki Amberstone, 31, who lives with her husband on the third floor. “I thought it was worse than an earthquake … I stuck my head out of the window to see what was going on, and that’s when I saw people on the ground screaming ‘Fire!’”
Amberstone and spouse Ken Fleck fled their home of six years with their cat Fritz, although their second pet feline was still inside the apartment. The trapped cat has access to an automatic feeder until the couple can get back inside, she said.
There was no immediate information on the victim killed in the explosion. The cause of the huge blast remained under investigation, officials said.
Next-door neighbor Dawa Lama, 28, said she could hear a voice crying out for help after the explosion that rattled her home and forced her temporary evacuation. When she stepped outside, Lawa could see a “crack” in the building facade along with smoke and flames.
“Our building was shaking,” she said. “I was drinking my morning coffee. I’m still shaking. It was some type of explosion … The firemen said it wasn’t gas related.”
More than 140 firefighters responded and quickly put out the fire sparked by the explosion, with four suffering minor injuries as sections of the sixth floor collapsed, said FDNY Chief Thomas Currao.
“There was a penthouse structure above the sixth floor,” he said. “We have significant damage to the penthouse structure as well as the rear of the sixth floor. We have a very unstable situation right now, so much so that we evacuated the two buildings to the rear of the fire structure.”
The Buildings Department evacuated “several adjacent buildings” as a precaution after arriving at the site. Its engineers and inspectors were conducting structural stability inspections, with a preliminary check finding severe fire damage on the penthouse level, he said.
Amberstone and Fleck were both set to celebrate their birthdays Wednesday, though they won’t be sharing any cake at home.
”I got one big birthday candle,” Amberstone ruefully remarked.