Witnesses of NYC building blast: 'It's completely gone'

Karolina Knepaite was making coffee in the kitchen of her fifth-story apartment in East Harlem on Wednesday when it happened.

A tremendous blast erupted from a row of residential buildings across the street, blew out her windows, and sent a thick cloud of dark gray smoke through her neighborhood, in a building explosion that has killed at least two people and injured 18 others.


When she looked outside, Knepaite told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview, personal belongings lay scattered in the street. She saw a pair of bent metal doors that appeared to have been blown onto the elevated train tracks that separate her building from the disaster site.

When the smoke cleared enough for her to see the remnants of one of the buildings across the street, there was sky where there should have been brick or concrete.

"It's completely gone," Knepaite said.

She said the air now reeks of burning rubble and hints of natural gas, which Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday it may have been the result of a natural gas leak.

The smell of gas was reported to Con Edison 15 minutes before the explosion, he said at a news conference.

Knepaite gave permission to The Times to share some of her photos and video from the scene:

Knepaite also said that when she went out onto her building's fire escape, she could see that "all my neighbor's windows were also shattered."

Below her building, debris lay scattered all over the street:

Andrew Michaelsen, 23, told The Times he lives in a building "about 50 feet" from the explosion, and he was in bed when he felt "this explosion like nothing I've ever heard or felt before."

"It happened for at least a good five to seven seconds, it shook everything," Michaelsen said in a phone interview.

"Literally, after the explosion happened and the rumbling was over, probably a good 10 seconds after, I heard screaming, just screaming," Michaelsen said. "I just laid in bed at first -- it was almost you're like in shock a little bit, and there's this huge explosion that happened and thinking my building is falling down -- I didn't know what to think."


And so he buried his head in his pillow at first, in shock.

When he looked out of a roommate's window, from the second story, he saw that at least one building was "reduced to a 30-foot pile of rubble."

He shared video of the rubble from across the courtyard his apartment building shares with the destroyed building, which appears to show flames licking out through the smoke:

"You have that very thick kind of putrid smell of burnt rubber," Michaelsen told The Times. "The force of it was so strong that [nearby apartment] windows are all blown out at least up until the fourth or fifth story. I went out in the courtyard ... after it happened, but the authorities evacuated us out of that area for our own safety."