The Latest on the Harlem Explosion

Thursday, March 13, 2014

NYPD and hundreds of firefighters responded to a 5-alarm fire at the site of two building explosions in East Harlem on March 12, 2014. NYPD and hundreds of firefighters responded to a 5-alarm fire at the site of two building explosions in East Harlem on March 12, 2014. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

As of 7:15 Thursday evening, the NYPD reports that eight people died as a result of the massive explosion on 116th St. in East Harlem. WNYC reporter Stephen Nessen updates the news about yesterday's fatal gas explosion that leveled two buildings on Park Avenue. Also, Robert Rodriguez, New York State Assembly Member (D-68th) representing East Harlem, talks about the emergency response and resources available to those affected by the explosion in his district, and any policy response that may be proposed. Plus, Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, offers advice for preparing for and responding to disasters like yesterday's gas explosion.

Later, Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future returns to discuss their report on NYC's aging infrastructure and the role it might have played in the explosion.


Stephen Nessen, Irwin Redlener and NYS Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez

Comments [35]

Have you seen Errol Louis's article today?

"New Yorkers should treat this week’s fatal explosion and building collapse in East Harlem as a wakeup call to repair, replace and upgrade our city’s utilities, roads, bridges, trains and public buildings.

There’s a lot we still don’t know, but as of this writing, there’s a strong likelihood that a problem with the gas delivery system caused or contributed to yesterday’s disaster. The evidence includes a Con Ed spokesman’s report of a gas smell minutes before the explosion and the sight of flames raging high into the sky long after the collapse.

The normal procedure by New Yorkers on days like yesterday is to check in with friends, whisper a prayer, count ourselves lucky and go back to business as usual. That would be a huge mistake.

It’s long past time we looked beyond our glittering skyline, bright lights and bustling energy long enough to acknowledge the plain truth: Major parts of this great, aging city are crumbling into ruin all around us.
The dimensions of the crisis are laid out in stark detail in “Caution Ahead,” a report published this week by the Center for an Urban Future.

New York's 6,300 miles of gas mains, according to the report, are an average of 56 years old. A Con Ed spokesman confirmed that the main feeding the East Harlem explosion site dates back to 1887, with some parts of it replaced in the 1970s and in 2011.

Most of the gas mains owned by Con Ed and nearly half of those owned by National Grid are made of unprotected steel or cast iron, the materials most likely to leak. Replacing a gas main costs between $2.2 and $8 million per mile. Multiply that by even half of the city’s 6,300 miles and the cost runs into the billions…"

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Mar. 13 2014 07:21 PM

if we let infrastructure fall apart,don't "the Terrorists" win by default?

Mar. 13 2014 04:34 PM

if the wealthy[individually and corp]are not paying their share of taxes,and they obviously aren't ; where in the hell is the money going to come from to maintain and repair infrastructure?!

Mar. 13 2014 03:32 PM

Like William, I am concerned about the conversion of oil (new law bans #6 oil, cheaper than cleaner #2) heat to gas heat. All the apartments in my neighborhood are being converted because of the new law and every street is dug up to put in the gas lines. While the lines may be new, they are now ubiquitous and if damaged by street repairs or construction, or weather related events aren't we all in greater danger from gas explosions? Addressing the air pollution from dirty heating oil creates new problems. Before going ahead with such directives shouldn't more thought be given to possible unintended consequences?! Fracking for gas has led to many serious problems that were forseeable. Cell phones/texting had forseeable deadly consequences. And there are many more examples of policies made in a hurry for PR quick approval ratings but with no attention paid to short or long term ramifications. We need leaders who want to do a good job - not leaders who only see their only "job" to be getting re-elected. And corporate leaders who are as committed to their communities as they are to their "bottom" lines. Our system can work - but it's only as good as the people running it! It's not money that will create these leaders. It's reviving personal and public integrity as our society's top priority.

Mar. 13 2014 12:27 PM

@ dboy: Whoa, why all the anger at me? I was just pointing out that there is a new guy who should also bear some of the responsibility. He's also been at Con Ed a long time, and I'm sure he is also paid a lot of money -- you could probably find out the exact amount when Con Ed Annual Report and Proxy Statement comes out this month (if it's not out already).

Mar. 13 2014 11:52 AM
laluni from Manhattan

I wonder about the new large luxury high rises that are such a feature of the city. Do the builders/owners have to pay a charge in order to service so many apts with many bathrooms?? that would be a way to help renew the infrastructure.

Mar. 13 2014 11:48 AM

Bob ~

Burke has been at ConEd since 1973!!!

He retired the end of LAST YEAR, 2013!!


I typed the key point in caps with the hope that you would hear it down there in the sand!!

Mar. 13 2014 11:16 AM

@ dboy: You need to update your target - Kevin Burke is retired; the current President and CEO of ConEd is John McAvoy.

Mar. 13 2014 11:08 AM
Lia from Manhattan

Why aren't we talking about the complicity of landlords in this problem? Negligent landlords who won't put any effort into maintaining their buildings beyond the bare minimum are also to blame for gas leaks. My own building had gas leaks in three separate apartments. The super was incompetent in dealing with them, and claimed that he had used soapy water to search for leaks, finding nothing. When I called ConEdison, the worker identified several leaks in my apartment from pipes that were not properly installed nor maintained. While the city infrastructure is certainly aging, I don't think blame should go immediately to ConEd.

Mar. 13 2014 11:05 AM

"Rate hikes"...?!?!??

Mar. 13 2014 11:02 AM
Mary from Bronx

Why not train "citizen dogs" to detect gas leaks? Dogs have been trained to detect drugs at airports and fluctuations in blood sugar in persons with diabetes. If dogs could be trained to detect gas leaks without too great a cost, perhaps, on regular walks, these dogs could alert their owners (and then authorities) of potential problems.

Mar. 13 2014 11:02 AM

I had an experience that I think is important to communicate.

A while ago, a resident of my building knocked on my door and said she smelled gas in the hallway, and asked if I smelled it. I said I didn't, but I would watch for it. A few minutes later I became aware of a faint hissing sound, and in searching, I found that a gas burner on my stove was turned on slightly, but had not been lit - I had somehow inadvertently leaned against it and activated it. But what’s important to note is that I honestly did not smell the gas! I came away with the conclusion that the leak was slow and gradual enough that my sense of smell had habituated to it, and was thus desensitized to the presence of the gas. And this was the case even when the smell was strong enough to alert somone outside my apartment.

I don’t know if this is a common experience, but if so, I think people should be made aware that one can become desensitized to the smell of leaking gas by being in its presence for a while. You should not disregard the report of someone else who claims that they do smell gas, simply because you aren’t smelling it yourself. In fact that may be the most dangerous sign of all, since it may indicate that you are so close to the leak that you have been desensitized by its presence.

I didn’t do any research to see if this was a known aspect of a gas leak, but if so, I think it should be communicated to the public in general, since, as I noted, it may indicate the most critical situation of all, i.e. that one is immersed in the leaking gas.

Mar. 13 2014 11:00 AM

...$15 MILLION in 2012 compensation?!?!??!

Mar. 13 2014 10:46 AM

127-year-old gas pipe?!!?

Mar. 13 2014 10:45 AM

Kevin Burke should be personally held responsible.

Mar. 13 2014 10:41 AM

Guess who makes the Forbes top 200 for CEO compensation?

Con Ed CEO Kevin Burke, at #180. (

Two questions: Why does the CEO make so much? and Why is Con Ed not completely nationalized, owned by the City of NY - it is an energy source everyone relies upon? It should be collectively owned and run as a non-profit by the people of NYC. Which of course would not only result in the cutting of exorbitant pay packages fro CEO's like Mr. Burke, but could significantly lessen our utility bills.

Have you seen the "delivery charges" on your bills? My gas "delivery" charge is 8 to 10x the amount of what I use monthly! How can anyone conclude it's anything other than a profit-making scam that makes a few in the organization rich?

Mar. 13 2014 10:35 AM

Trillions in gov't spending? Let's see, when did I last hear that? Right, that's what it cost to rescue Wallstreet's share of the pie... which we HAD to do because we needed that right???

Mar. 13 2014 10:31 AM

How much were these dead people paying for the privilege of living in these death trap sh*t holes?!?!

Mar. 13 2014 10:29 AM

For those interested, you can see what the buildings looked like before the explosion by putting in the address on Google Maps and going to Street View.

Mar. 13 2014 10:29 AM

The caller should know that not all luxury housing is built that well either. I have a friend who lives in a new coop building where they forgot to put fireproofing between the floors (which one would hope would be a code violation).

The walls in our building are made of cement. It has many problems, but when we've had fires in our building the fires have not spread. The woman who lived above my husband (long before I met him) burned her apartment when she fell asleep with a cigarette. The only damage to his apartment was water damage from the firefighters spraying down her apartment. Ditto for the electrical fire in our basement from the restaurant. As long as I kept the apartment door shut, none of the extensive smoke entered our apartment. So, while I do worry about gas and electrical problems in our very old building, I do not worry about our building collapsing or fires spreading.

Mar. 13 2014 10:27 AM
Robert from NYC

Let the Con Ed investors pay for THEIR company's improvements and upgrades, as it were. That's why they invest, no? Invest means they invest in the company to maintain its well-being and continuance, no?!

Mar. 13 2014 10:26 AM
Rebecca Mercer-White from East Harlem

I'm wondering if the person who contacted Con Ed call them directly or called 311. What is the best way to contact Con Ed?

Mar. 13 2014 10:26 AM

…the REAL money seems to be in Wall Street and… utility managment!?!?!

Mar. 13 2014 10:26 AM
William from Manhattan

Should we be concerned about the wholesale conversion of boilers to natural gas?

Mar. 13 2014 10:26 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Incidents like these require explanatory town halls -- about infrastructure, about what CON Ed is doing with the money, etc.

Mar. 13 2014 10:23 AM
landless from Brooklyn

Relying on smell seems risky. Why don't we have monitors for gas leaks as we do for carbon monoxide? Why not a NEST for gas? There is no way that Con Ed can replace all gas lines. It would make more sense to identify weak pipes and fix them than rely on replacing all pipes, some which may be fine.

Mar. 13 2014 10:23 AM


Here's where ALL the $$ goes!!!


Mr. Burke joined Con Edison, a utility provider of electric, gas and steam services, in 1973 and has held positions of increasing responsibility in system planning, engineering, law, nuclear power, construction, and corporate planning. He served as Senior Vice President from July 1998 to July 1999, with responsibility for customer service and for Con Edisons electric transmission and distribution systems. In 1999, Mr. Burke was elected President of Orange & Rockland Utilities, Inc., a subsidiary of Con Edison. He was elected President and Chief Operating Officer of Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. in 2000 and elected Chief Executive Officer in 2005. Mr. Burke was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of Con Edison in 2005, and elected Chairman in 2006. In addition, Mr. Burke is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Consolidated Edison of New York, Inc. and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Orange & Rockland Utilities, Inc., both of which are affiliates of Con Edison. Areas of Relevant Experience: Energy production and distribution; energy efficiency; alternative sources of energy; engineering and construction; development of new service offerings; government regulation.

Consolidated Edison, Inc.

Compensation for 2012
Salary $1,214,042
Bonus $315,400
Restricted stock awards $4,179,060
All other compensation $138,960
Non-equity incentive plan compensation $1,577,200
Change in pension value and nonqualified deferred compensation earnings $7,414,192

TOTAL COMPENSATION $14,838,854 (!!!)



Mar. 13 2014 10:21 AM

A hundred and twenty year old, rotting infrastructure…??

We pay some of the highest utility rates in the country. In the case of electricity, we THE highest rates in the ENTIRE country…with the exception of Hawaii and Block Island (imagine getting power to those places). And…NOT by a little bit… 50% MORE!!!

Where does ALL the money go…???

Mar. 13 2014 10:20 AM
fuva from harlemworld

These old, leaky gas lines exemplify the widespread infrastructure hazards that can blow up in our faces at any moment.
And the (actual) unemployment and inequality rates are still high. And they are even higher in the neighborhood where this blast took place.
And yet, Republicans have been resisting an infrastructure jobs program for FIVE YEARS AND COUNTING...
FOLKS, for tolerating this, we will, to future generations, look almost as foolish as folk mobilizing mobs and militia against children trying to go to school...

Mar. 13 2014 10:19 AM
frances from Upper Manhattan

That block, and similar ones just east of the elevated Metro North, is a quiet, clean area I"d describe as residential with a scattering of small businesses and small, grassy areas with trees,churches. The building with the piano store had only one resident per floor - the feel of the neighborhood is uncrowded. Two blocks east, you're in a major shopping area - the avenues are very wide and pleasant but the emphasis is on the shopping. Not so on the blocks just east of the trains.

Mar. 13 2014 10:16 AM
Arthur aptowitz from Forest HJlls

The most important lesson: When you smell gas, REPORT IT IMMEDIATELY, and keep reporting it. Don't tell us about it AFTER the explosion.

Mar. 13 2014 10:16 AM
john from office

Most of the Apartment buildings in New York are over 100 years old. Things age.

Remember the brownstone in park slope that crumbled to the ground?

Mar. 13 2014 10:15 AM
Kerry and Thomas from East Harlem

Very sad, gas always smelled there on the way home.

Also glad your reporter Steven mentioned the eyesore landscaper shack under the train we always complain about the piles of garbage and the rats and debris from that site, I do not know how it is allowed to be under there, very unsafe.

Mar. 13 2014 10:07 AM
SamMak from NYC

Before we'd forget - it was certainly a rough winter. Perhaps all that deep freezing and thawing caused cracks on older pipes. The City government, or ConEd, perhaps should wake up to a plan for closer inspection of the gas pipes to avoid the worse. A good wakeup!?

Mar. 13 2014 09:59 AM
Gina Fox from Rhinebeck

If one ever does smell gas should you leave you home or apt immediately? It seems like these explosions occur very soon after people report gas odors.

Mar. 13 2014 09:10 AM

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