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Worshipers, Mayor Mourn Those Lost in Explosion

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mayor de Blasio, with a translator, speaking to congregants of the destroyed Spanish Christian Church, at the Church of God in East Harlem (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

Congregants of the Spanish Christian church that lost its home and some members in Wednesday's explosion in East Harlem were welcomed Sunday by another neighborhood church, in a service crowded with worshipers and politicians.

The Church of God on Third Avenue opened its arms to the homeless congregants. Its Reverend, Doctor Hector Chiesa, said the destruction of two neighboring buildings — the source of which is still being investigated — was a reminder of the city's need "to be vigilant" about its buildings, plumbing and gas pipes.

Investigators have been looking at whether the gas pipelines leading into the buildings had a leak. Residents reported smelling gas in the days and months before the explosion.

Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the service and mentioned the pastor of the Spanish Christian Church, Thomas Perez, who was notably absent. He had been hospitalized after feeling chest pain. With the help of a translator for the mostly Spanish-speaking audience, de Blasio asked everyone to keep Perez in their prayers. He was loudly applauded when he said Perez had lost his church, but, "the absence of the building didn't take away his faith."

He also recognized the tremendous pain experienced by those who had lost loved ones and their homes. "But it's not the pain of being alone," he said to the crowd of two different congregations. "Because all of you are with them. They can feel your love."

A total of eight people died in the explosion Wednesday, several of whom were members of the Spanish church's congregation. Two of the dead were members of Bethel Gospel Church in Harlem, which de Blasio also attended earlier on Sunday with First Lady Chirlane McCray and Public Advocate Letitia James.

The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City announced that it had collected $250,000 to help the families displaced by the explosion, and to pay for funerals. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who also represents East Harlem and who attended the services Sunday, said monetary contributions are still appreciated and her goal is to keep those who are displaced in the neighborhood.

"This is where their social support networks are," she said. "This is where their family and loved ones are," adding that they want to go about their daily lives as best as possible.

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