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Woman Killed In Borough Park House Explosion; Natural Gas Suspected

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) --  Officials suspect a recently disconnected stove may have caused an apparent gas explosion Saturday that killed a woman and injured three others in Brooklyn.

The blast happened around 1 p.m. on the second floor of the building, located at at 4206 13th Ave. in Borough Park, which had a business on the first floor and two apartments above it.

"The building was engulfed in flames, everything was crumbling down," said 16-year-old Brigitte Martinez, who saw people on the street running for cover.

With a firehouse around the corner, firefighters got to the scene in only three minutes, but they couldn't rescue one woman, whose body was found in a stairwell in the building, CBS2's Matt Kozar reported.

Councilman Brad Lander said the tenant who lived in that apartment had moved out about a week ago. Lander said the woman who died was a tenant in her 60s who was originally from the Dominican Republic. He said the woman lived in a third-floor apartment with her daughter, who was out of town at the time.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the victim has not yet been identified by police because fire crews are still working to make the building safe to enter.

"This is a tragedy," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "This is a very tough situation, but the response from the FDNY and the other first responders has been extraordinary."

More than 200 firefighters were at the scene of the 4-alarm fire.

Bill de Blasio on scene of Borough Park house explosion
Bill de Blasio on scene of Borough Park house explosion (Credit: John Metaxas/WCBS 880)

Nigro said the three other people injured were a 27-year-old man, a 34-year-old father and his 9-year-old son. He said they were walking right in front of the building when it exploded and were injured by flying debris.

Police said the 34-year-old man suffered a fractured leg and ankle; the boy also sustained a leg injury. Both were taken to Methodist Hospital.

The third victim sustained minor injuries to his legs and was also taken to Methodist Hospital.

One of the victims is in critical condition, Kozar reported.

Authorities are still trying to track down another person who lived in the building. De Blasio said officials just wanted to confirm the person was not home at the time.

The blast rocked the largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in the middle of a Sabbath afternoon.

De Blasio, speaking on cable news station NY1, said the Sabbath could have saved lives because there are less people walking in the neighborhood.

"Had it been the next day it would have been a much worse situation,'' he said.

Borough Park resident Jacob Kornbluh said he had walked past the building just minutes before the blast. He told Kozar the victims were coming home from synagogue at the time of the incident.

"It's frightening to see such an incident," Kornbluh said.

Five firefighters were also injured while battling the blaze, which is expected to smolder through the evening, officials said.

Photos: Borough Park House Explosion

Witnesses told WCBS 880's John Metaxas they heard a blast and looked up to see the facade of the building blown away. The top two floors of the building were left gaping open.

"I just felt everything shaking like an earthquake and me and my dad ran to the window, and we look out the window and just saw the whole building is gone," Adam told 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria

Smoke from the fire could be seen billowing into the air from blocks away.

Borough Park fire explosion
Smoke seen rising from a house fire in Borough Park, Brooklyn on Oct. 3, 2015 (Credit: Joel Werner/@joelwerner/Instagram)

Bridget, who works at a Payless ShoeSource two blocks away from the fire, said the store smelled of smoke.

"We smelled smoke and then we see people running outside," she told 1010 WINS. "We could smell it in the store and in the backroom."

Firefighters worked to contain the blaze, only to see smoke start billowing out of the building next door, Metaxas reported. After working on that building for about an hour, it also looks to be heavily damaged, Metaxas reported.

When asked if there was a chance the building that exploded may collapse, fire officials said yes. Investigators have not been able to enter the building because of the structural damage.

"There is always a possibility of building collapse," said one fire official.

Authorities said the blast happened while changing out a stove in the second floor apartment.

"We are told that the tenant there purchased a high-end stove that was their own stove," Nigro said. "They we moving out of the apartment and were going to take that stove with them. Of course, to take a stove it entails disconnecting the gas line."

Nigro said there were no reports of odors of gas prior to the explosion.

"Today, the first call that we received was that there was an explosion," he said.

De Blasio said after the gas explosion in East Harlem, the city has been emphasizing to residents that any time you smell gas, do not hesitate to call 911.

"Better safe, than sorry," the mayor added.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement Saturday afternoon calling the explosion "the latest in a disturbing trend," citing explosions in East Harlem and the East Village.

"In light of this, I am directing the State Department of Public Service to undertake an investigation into the cause of this incident," the governor said. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, my thoughts and prayers are with those who have been impacted by today's explosion, especially the friends and family of those lost or injured."

In response, de Blasio said he is confident in the NYPD and FDNY to complete a full investigation, and that ultimately the facts are going to be determined by those two agencies beginning Saturday evening.

City Department of Buildings staffers were at the scene to assess the damage.

A spokeswoman for National Grid said staffers for the utility were on the scene working under the direction of the Fire Department. She said the building's gas was shut off for safety.

The Red Cross is currently providing shelter to 10 adults and 9 children displaced by the blast.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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