Apartments 'Blown Apart' in NY Building's Second Blaze in Weeks, 17 Injured

An explosion blew apart walls and hurt 17 people in an apartment building still recovering from a fire six weeks earlier, authorities said.

Residents' apartments were "literally blown apart," City Councilman John Liu said in a statement. Debris was scattered on fire escapes and around the Queens building.

The explosion came minutes after natural gas service was restored at the building, which had largely been without it for more than a month. State assemblywoman Ellen Young called the blast an example of "neglect turned tragic."

Landlord Alwall Construction Corp. did not immediately return a telephone message Friday night.

The six-story building's gas and hot water were shut off, at firefighters' request, after a June 11 kitchen blaze, said Chris Olert, a spokesman for gas and electric utility Consolidated Edison. Hot water was restored July 1.

Natural gas — which can be turned back on only after a licensed plumber certifies it's safe — was restored Wednesday to part of the building, and Friday to another, Olert said. It's the landlord's responsibility to secure an OK from the plumber, he said.

"It's up to the property owner to make it safe," he said.

Everything appeared to be in order when Con Ed workers left at 4:13 p.m., Olert said.

The explosion rocked the building 11 minutes later, firefighters said.

Liu described the damage as "devastating" and said he was interviewing residents to see whether "there may be negligence involved, possibly criminal."

Firefighters said two victims were critically injured and a third had serious wounds. Fourteen other people, including six firefighters, suffered minor injuries, the fire department said.

The fire caused no structural damage, but charring, water damage, broken windows and collapsed interior partitions left 37 of the building's roughly 90 apartments uninhabitable, the Buildings Department said.

It wasn't clear when residents would be able to return. A junior high school across the street was opened as a shelter.

The utility shut-off spurred residents to start withholding rent earlier this month, the Daily News reported July 3. Alwall operations director Jeff Pace told the newspaper the landlord had spent tens of thousands of dollars on repairs to try to get the gas back on.

"I'm very sympathetic to the situation over there," Pace said. He said Con Edison had been slow to test a new gas line, which the utility denied.

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