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Flushing explosion wrecks home, injures two

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Michelle Cao was sitting in the living room of her second-floor apartment in Flushing while her husband cooked dinner at 7:42 p.m. Monday night.

But they never got to eat their meal.

One minute later, their Leavitt Street home was rocked by a massive propane explosion that left two neighbors injured and sent Cao out into the chilly night to assess the damage to the attached houses.

“It was just like a boom. I saw my pictures and everything fall to the floor, so I just put on more clothes and came outside,” she said, shivering in her husband’s arms beneath a thin blue blanket, moments after her home was rocked by the blast. “I was so scared. I didn’t see anything, I just ran out.”

When she made it to the street, glass, wood and other debris had blown out the front doors and windows of her neighbors’ building, littering the street and a section of Leavitt Park directly across from the ravaged home, which the city was beginning to demolish Tuesday morning.

The explosion, which Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Edward Kilduff said was the first of its kind he has dealt with, was allegedly caused by a man who lived next door to Cao who was releasing gas from a 20-pound propane tank in the rear doorway of his first-floor apartment at 32-35 Leavitt St.

Gas pooled on the floor and hit an ignition source of some kind, causing it to explode, he said.

The blast blew off most of the back of the row-style apartment building and caused extensive damage to the front facade, which was visibly buckled outward, as well as to the two attached buildings to its left and right, said FDNY spokesman Jim Long.

The man received burns on his face and arms and was taken Monday night to the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell in serious condition but with no life-threatening injuries, Kilduff said.

An NYPD spokesman at the scene said he does not expect charges to be filed against the man.

A woman, who Kilduff said was understood to be the injured man’s wife, was also hurt during the explosion.

Firefighters found her buried under debris on the first floor of the home upon arriving at the scene, and after unearthing her, took her to a hospital in stable condition with only “bumps and bruises,” according to Kilduff.

Fire Department and hospital representatives said they could not provide updates on either victim’s condition by Tuesday afternoon and their names were not released.

FDNY first responders arrived at 7:45 p.m. and by 7:50 p.m. the scene was upgraded to a two-alarm emergency, meaning 25 units, 106 firefighters and about 20 EMS personnel were sent to the site of the blast, according to an FDNY spokesman.

A total of 21 residents of the home and its neighboring homes - two families of eight and one family of five - were registered at the scene with the American Red Cross for disaster relief services, Red Cross Manhattan Disaster Action Team Captain Rebecca Callahan said Tuesday morning. They were provided with hotels to stay in or went to live with family while they find new housing.

She said it appeared that “a lot of people weren’t home yet” at the time of the explosion, which may be a key reason why no one was killed or more seriously injured.

The three attached three-story buildings affected by the blast will not have to be demolished, contrary to earlier reports, but will instead undergo reconstruction by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said city Department of Buildings spokeswoman Carly Sullivan.

The department will shore up the shared walls between the units, the front facade will be replaced at 32-35 Leavitt, where the blast occurred, half of the front facade of 32-33 will be replaced and the canopy above the front door at 32-37 will be replaced, she said.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 6:27 pm, October 10, 2011
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