NY, NY – Fire officials continued to investigate Saturday what caused an explosion that ripped through a Queens apartment building Friday, leaving 17 people injured two critically.
The fire and explosion happened shortly after 4:30 Friday afternoon on Sanford Avenue in Flushing.
The two critically-injured victims Edgar Zaldumbide and his 23-month-old daughter, Melissa were taken to the hospital with severe burns. The man is said to be in a medically-induced coma.
The blast came just minutes after natural gas was restored to the building. Consolidated Edison said the gas had been turned off last month after a small fire.
The building manager said since then, a licensed plumber has been working to replace valves throughout the building, and that Con Ed pressure tested seven of the building’s 14 main arteries over the course of Thursday and Friday.
After approving the arteries, Con Ed restored the gas to some of the units.
City Councilman John Liu said an investigation is needed to find out who is responsible.
“Con Ed had just left less than an hour before they told the residents that they could go ahead and turn the gas back on, which one person did, and then this explosion rips through the building,” said Liu. “For weeks the supposed repairs and maintenance were taking place, and yet the residents went for a long time without basic necessities of living.”
Fire officials told the New York Times the blast may have been sparked by a lit stove.
“There are rumors that it was started by the stove being turned on by the gentleman that’s severely injured,” said David Pace, the building manager, “But I don’t know where that would come from because he was brought out in a condition where he could hardly speak.”
The blast forced dozens of residents out the building; as of Saturday night, it was unclear when they will be able to return home.
“It was pretty loud. It was just like a big boom. So I just dropped down,” said one resident. “I heard the knock on the door and I just ran out.”
“Everybody came out screaming,” said another. “I came out and I see three people burned skin peeling everywhere.”
The fire caused no structural damage, but the Buildings Department said fire damage inside the building left 37 apartments unsafe for residents.
Those who were able to get back into their apartments said the damage was extensive.
“My brother went in last night. He said that everything was destroyed,” said a tenant. “My whole apartment is wet. Everything is broken, the computers, the TVs.”
“When I came in, I saw plaster all over the place,” said another. “I got scared.”
The Red Cross set up a temporary shelter at Junior High School 189Q across the street from the building.