Dozens Displaced by Harlem Explosion, Buildings Full of Debris and Ice

An emergency shelter has been set up near the site of the building collapse in East Harlem

Dozens of people displaced after the East Harlem explosion say they're grateful to be alive after witnessing the horror of the deadly building collapse, some narrowly escaping the blast themselves.

"Relieved ain't the word," said Aisha Watts. "I thank God. God made a way for me to get out of that apartment." 

Watts says she was in her apartment at the time of the explosion and recalls feeling terrified when she couldn't get out.

"I was stuck. The door was jammed," she said. "I ran back to the kitchen to get a knife, and that didn't work. I was panicking. I said, 'You don't die in this apartment. Your three kids need you.'"

According to the mayor, seven buildings surrounding the two that exploded and collapsed are uninhabitable for now. Those contain 89 apartments and three businesses, he said. Windows were blown out, debris was blown in, and some were even covered with ice from firefighter hoses.

Karen Robinson described an eerie scene around her home.

"It's just very dusty and there's a smell, a weird smell in there," said Robinson. "It's just horrible." 

The Red Cross opened a temporary shelter on East 125th Street in cooperation with the Salvation Army, which housed more than five dozen people, including 14 families with children. The shelter was set to close Friday night, though Red Cross says it will continue to provide services at the New York City Resident Service Center. 

Other neighbors are stepping in to help in any way they can. 

"I know these guys are cold and they need things," said Laticia Singleton, who arrived at the shelter to drop off clothing.

"This is where I was born and raised, in New York -- actually in the Bronx -- and I moved here four years ago, so these are my people," she said. "I'm here to help." 

Robinson said, "It's sad, very sad. But we're just grateful that we're OK and we just have to thank God for that." 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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