On Wednesday, a low-rise apartment building near 116th Street, in East Harlem seemed to explode. Sources say it was due to a gas leak- when the Fire Department got the alarm, the roof of the building collapsed, and much of the house next door came down, too. Smoke was visible throughout Harlem—at least as far west as Lenox Avenue and as far south as Central Park. From that distance, it might have been heavy fog, if not for the acrid smell of wood dust and burning plastic.
On Fifth Avenue, a deli had set up speakers, tuned the radio to the news, and cranked it up loud. Neighbors gathered, listening and wondering what to do next.