Officials: Gas leak possible cause of explosion in Chinatown building

Firefighters gather at the scene of a possible Firefighters gather at the scene of a possible gas explosion and fire that partially collapsed a building in Manhattan's Chinatown neighborhood. (July 11, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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FDNY investigators are looking at a possible gas leak as the cause of an explosion and fire that partially collapsed a building in the northern area of Manhattan's Chinatown Thursday, officials said.

Twelve people, including four firefighters, were injured in the blast at 17 Pike St., a five-story, mixed-used brick building just north of the approach road to the Manhattan Bridge, said a spokesman for the FDNY.

The firefighters suffered minor injuries such as smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion as they battled the fire that gutted the lower floors of the structure, said the spokesman. Three of the other injured were taken in serious condition to hospitals and were expected to survive. Most of the civilians suffered from burns and smoke inhalation.

"It was a big boom. The ground shook and the explosion was the loudest behind my building," said John Ng, 50, whose building's rear faces the Pike Street structure, where the first-floor interior collapsed at about 1 p.m. The building is next door to the old Pike Street synagogue, now a Buddhist center.

Fire officials said about 65 firefighters and 12 fire truck units responded to the scene, where police closed off a portion of Pike Street, a major thoroughfare.

An NYPD official said that a gas leak is believed to have sparked the fire. An FDNY spokeswoman said the cause was still under investigation.

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A spokesman for the city Department of Buildings said the building had nothing in its recent history that would have hinted at trouble. City records show that a complaint in 2009 about a sagging first floor in the building was rectified.

Becky Ye, 50, of Brooklyn, rushed to the scene to find her 84-year-old mother Yao Mei shaken up. "She was very scared. Her legs were trembling and she could not walk down the stairs by herself," said Ye, adding that her mother was helped out by a neighbor.

As of late Thursday afternoon, the five-story tenement building, which has between 16 to 18 apartments, was shut down and was being inspected by the city.

With Maria Alvarez

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