American Dispatch: A Tragedy In Harlem

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

By FOX News Radio’s Tonya J. Powers, who covered the deadly building explosion in East Harlem, NYC

I was in cab going north on Madison Avenue, trying to get as close as I could, as fast as I could to the scene. With a clear view of the smoke that lay ahead of me I asked the cab driver to roll down a window. Even though I was still ten blocks away, I could immediately smell the smoke and hear sirens nearby– all trying to get to the same place I was going.

Watch a VIDEO below of Tonya’s reporting from the scene:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXg3qwxX5SQ&list=UUh13rzqPKn5c24RU9tLz_TQ&feature=share&index=1

Police had blocked off the area, so I got as close as possible. Passing a construction crew, I asked them if they’d heard anything. One of them, a man named John, said he heard a loud explosion. He was one of the first people to get a look at the scene. “The truck rumbled, and then I got out ‘cause I was like, wondering where it came from and then I see the smoke”, John told me. “We ran over there and we saw that whole area on Park and 116th. All the businesses, the glass was broken out. The whole building was down. It was crazy.”

Photo by: FNR's Tonya J. Powers

Photo by: FNR’s Tonya J. Powers

This is Park and 115th Street, Harlem. People from the neighborhood and the media had gathered at this intersection, staring up the street where you could see smoke pouring from the area where the buildings had been.

Photo by: FNR's Tonya J. Powers

Photo by: FNR’s Tonya J. Powers

Firefighters came and went past the police barricade, heading to the spot where the buildings had stood. Lots of folks had ventured down to get a look at what had made the noise they heard. One of them was Rose, who lives nearby– “I felt it. It almost knocked me off my bed”, she told me.

Listen to Rose’s story below:

Audio clip:

Photo by: FNR's Tonya J. Powers

Photo by: FNR’s Tonya J. Powers

I was able to get to a rooftop where I had a better view of the firefighters. When I opened the door to the roof, I was hit with the heavy smell of smoke. The wind shifted often, sending the smoke in my direction. Armando Ramos had given me access to the building owned by his sister-in-law and on the roof he handed me a piece of material, much like a dentist clips on patients in the chair. “Use this to breathe”, he explained.

Photo by: FNR's Tonya J. Powers

Photo by: FNR’s Tonya J. Powers

About five hours after the explosion, this is what it looked like from where I was standing. Smoke was starting to clear a little and I was able to see the firefighters on the roof across the way. In the photo above, you can see them, and also the explosion debris that landed on the roof of the building next door.

Watch a VIDEO below of Tonya reporting on the building explosion from the rooftop:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwcEUmWKJqY&list=UUh13rzqPKn5c24RU9tLz_TQ&feature=share

Photo by: FNR's Tonya J. Powers

Photo by: FNR’s Tonya J. Powers

Cars were parked on the street behind the explosion site, parked where they came to a stop. Look closely at the car that’s second from left. It is a dark colored car, but notice the top half of the vehicle – covered in a thick layer of ash that settled on it after the explosion.

Photo by: FNR's Tonya J. Powers

Photo by: FNR’s Tonya J. Powers

Most folks don’t usually have masks at the ready, but many of the people in this neighborhood did. The woman in the picture above was delivering mail in a nearby building a few hours after the explosion. She told me she was wearing the mask because of the smoke and wasn’t taking any chances.

Photo by: FNR's Tonya J. Powers

Photo by: FNR’s Tonya J. Powers

Many fire and police vehicles, as well as ambulances could be seen all over the area. In the middle of all the uncertainty, I also saw people helping others. Hilda Candy Vives-Vasquez is the Executive Director of the 116 Block Association– a community group in Harlem. Just a few hours after the explosion, she and others in the group were working to find temporary homes for people affected by the tragedy. Many were unable to return to their apartments, and the 116 Block Association was connecting people with vacant apartments in the area so they would have a place to stay.

Candy heard the explosion on Wednesday morning, and it brought back vivid memories of another tragedy she witnessed firsthand: the 9/11 attacks.

Listen to Candy’s story below:

Audio clip:

In the coming weeks, we will learn much more about the explosion that took lives and hurt many others. Investigations will be done, headlines will be written and funerals will be held. But one thing is certain– the neighborhood they called home will take time to heal.

FNR's Tonya J. Powers

FNR’s Tonya J. Powers




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