NEW YORK — Propane gas spewing from a damaged tank touched off an explosion and fire Tuesday that leveled three two-story buildings in a Brooklyn neighborhood, killing four people and injuring 35, officials and witnesses said.
Two victims were seriously injured, and 12 firefighters and 12 police officers suffered minor injuries, officials said.
Scores of firefighters hunting for victims dug through the rubble in what Deputy Commissioner John Mulligan described as "a brick-by-brick, beam-by-beam search" of the buildings in the Borough Park section.
All Believed Found
"We believe all persons have been accounted for," Fire Commissioner Joseph Spinnato said. "But there is a remote possibility there were others inside."
Police Capt. Michael Julian said an employee of a plumbing supply business told police that eight people were in the store 15 minutes before the blast. Police accounted for six of those, he said.
A crane was brought in to lift the building's fallen roof.
An eyewitness, Ari Dubov, said two workers were unloading propane tanks from a truck into the plumbing supply store when the tanks "banged together, and one of the nozzles broke off." The flammable gas began spewing out, he said, and the workers ran to warn people in the store.
Moments later, at 9:47 a.m., "there was a phenomenal explosion," said Rabbi Elliot Amsel of Congregation Hamaor, across the street from the blast. "Now it looks like London in World War II."
The three two-story brick buildings, in a neighborhood of tree-lined streets, housed a plumbing business, a bakery and apartments.
Dubov, a 28-year-old truck driver who saw the workers unloading the truck, said that as the men carried the containers, "somehow, they just, like, banged together, and one of the nozzles broke off."
"They heard it, and they dropped (the containers) and they said, 'Oh . . . something's going to happen.' "
The two men "ran in (to the store) to try to get out as many people as they could," he said. "By the time they came out, the whole building just came down" in what he termed "a tremendous explosion."
It was not known what ignited the propane, Spinnato said. The explosion broke a gas pipe in the building and the escaping gas fed the fire, according to Homer Bishop, the department's chief of operations.