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New York, Mar 12 (EFE).- The collapse on Wednesday of two apartment buildings in New York's East Harlem neighborhood that left at least three people dead, nine missing and 22 others injured was due to a gas leak explosion, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
"This is a tragedy of the worst kind," he told reporters at the disaster scene.
"(T)he only indication of danger came about 15 minutes earlier when a gas leak was reported to (utility) Con Edison. Con Ed dispatched a team to respond. The explosion occurred before that team could arrive," the mayor said.
De Blasio announced late in the afternoon that the death toll stood at three and that it had been determined that nine people were missing. The only one of the dead to be identified so far was a woman named Griselda Camacho, but one of the other fatalities was also reported to be a woman.
"I was in the living room when I heard a powerful explosion and then the glass broke and the frames of the windows," a Dominican woman who lived in one of the buildings next to the ones that collapsed told Efe. She also said that shortly thereafter the people from her building were evacuated and now they don't know where they will spend the night, since they have not been allowed to go back to their apartments.
The Red Cross has set up a shelter in a nearby school for the people who are without a place to sleep as a result of the incident.
The blast occurred right beside a Metro North rail line and the buildings collapsed onto it, forcing authorities to suspend train service connecting Manhattan with the city's northern suburbs.
Also at the scene was City Council President Melissa Mark-Viverito, who addressed the press in Spanish to ask area residents not to be afraid to contact the authorities to ask for help.
"We can't give a specific number of people who are missing but we're asking people to contact the emergency number 311 to report in," said Mark-Viverito.
The explosion occurred at 9:30 a.m. and one of the affected buildings had 60 pending complaints of various sorts with the authorities, New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who is of Dominican origin, said.
On the lower floors of the two collapsed buildings were a Latino evangelical church and a piano store and above were four floors of apartments where people were living, authorities said.