East Harlem churches' congregants, officials, mourn blast victims

The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during services Sunday,

The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during services Sunday, March 16, 2014 at the Bethel Gospel Assembly as the congregation mourns the deaths of two members in Wednesday's explosions in the East Harlem neighborhood. (Credit: AP / John Minchillo)

Congregations at churches near the site of the fatal building explosion in East Harlem, joined by local elected officials, Sunday mourned the victims through prayer and vowed to strengthen community ties to help in the healing process.

Bethel Gospel Assembly lost two congregants in Wednesday's blast that killed at least eight: Carmen Tanco, 67, who was an usher, and Griselde Camacho, 45.

Church pastor Bishop Carlton T. Brown led about 300 people Sunday in prayer for the Spanish Christian Church, which had been located in one of the collapsed buildings.


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Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife, Chirlane McCray, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem), City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James attended the service.

De Blasio said Tanco and Camacho got the most from life because they gave to others.

"You can feel the support here. . . . You can feel how tangible and real it is," the mayor said.

McCray announced that the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, which she chairs, has secured $250,000 to help blast victims and their families.

"If there's one thing New Yorkers can count on when there's a crisis, it's other New Yorkers," McCray said.

Later, at the Church of God, at 2135 Third Ave., just blocks from the blast, de Blasio and Mark-Viverito addressed the 200 or so congregants in both English and Spanish. The church was hosting congregants of the demolished Spanish Christian Church.

The mayor thanked volunteers, community members and first responders, lauding their bravery and sacrifice.

"In this tragedy is an example to us all of the love that permeates this city. . . . Sometimes it's hard to see. Sometimes this place seems a little tough. But underneath, we have each others' backs," he said.

De Blasio said the city would find permanent housing in East Harlem for those displaced by the blast, thought to be caused by a gas leak. He said aid would be available to those living in the country illegally.

"We are here to help everyone regardless of their documentation status," he said, "because they're all our brothers and sisters."

Members of St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church, on East 117th Street, also gathered near the explosion to pray and sing. "I feel bad about what happened," said Josefa Garcia, 71, a parishioner who helped lead the singing.

FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said Saturday the focus of the investigation would shift Sunday to the gas pipes and meters in the basements of the buildings. But Sunday investigators released no information on work in the basement.

Speaking to reporters later Sunday de Blasio said: "As of yesterday, we were still in a recovery mode. . . . We were hoping that the rescue teams and the first-responder teams could get into the basement and get us some more information as early as today, but as I've said . . . expect this to be an ongoing investigation for quite a while."

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