On Wednesday, March 12, our community experienced a severe tragedy when a gas explosion in our beloved East Harlem, “El Barrio,” destroyed two buildings, took several lives and displaced a significant number of residents in the surrounding neighborhood.
While the blast of the explosion shook the entire greater Harlem community and our city, it did not shake our strong commitment to help each other and work together. I witnessed firsthand our community coming together to provide prayers, comfort, shelter, food and support to every family and loved one affected by the tragedy.
Let me thank our first responders, New York City’s Bravest and New York City’s Finest, for immediately bringing control and isolating a situation that could have gone worse, working under severe weather and toxic conditions to prevent the fire from spreading, while saving countless lives during and after the initial blast.
There were construction workers nearby who responded instantaneously and were able to rescue several people trapped in cars and debris, including a small child who was found under the rubble with his PlayStation remote control in his hand.
We don’t know all their names, but we know they answered the call. The doctors, nurses and trauma staff at Harlem Hospital Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center were able and ready to receive the number of injured individuals and save lives.
The American Red Cross and CERT volunteers acted immediately to set up a crisis center at the James Weldon Johnson Public School for the families of lost loved ones, the missing and the displaced. It was a place where everyone could join together to support each other and find comfort. Thank you, Lorraine Hasty, principal of James Weldon Johnson School, for opening the doors and providing a safety net.
Community Planning Board 11 and nonprofits like the 116th Block Association and NERVE provided volunteers, warm meals, beverages and shelter. The Salvation Army on East 125th Street opened its facilities to provide temporary housing and support for the displaced, providing clothing and counseling, as well as daily meals.
The explosion on Wednesday shows how New Yorkers come together in a time of need. I have mentioned only a few of the groups and individuals who were involved. Many individuals, groups and organizations continue to provide relief and comfort, whether it is the Fire and Police departments or religions institutions like Bethel Gospel Assembly, which lost two families in the blast, or Spanish Christian Church, which crumbled under the explosion.
We will recover and we will rebuild. I wish to thank Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Office of Emergency Management, the National Transportation Safety Board, the New York City Council and my colleagues on the federal, state and local level. And, most importantly, I am grateful to my constituents of East Harlem for the honor of representing them. We will rise from this tragedy stronger than ever.