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Seven killed in NY church gas explosion

13 March 2014

AP

Levelled: emergency workers respond at the scene of the explosion in the East Harlem, on Wednesday

Levelled: emergency workers respond at the scene of the explosion in the East Harlem, on Wednesday

FOUR members of a church which collapsed after a suspected gas explosion in New York are still missing.

The Spanish Christian Church, in East Harlem, was flattened by the blast on Wednesday. It occupied the ground floor of a five-storey building which was destroyed by the explosion.

At least seven people are known to have been killed in the explosion, and dozens were injured. Reports from the scene spoke of billowing clouds of smoke, debris hurled across the street, and passers-by trapped in their cars.

About one third of the congregation of the Evangelical Spanish Christian Church also lived above it in the building which collapsed.

The church's financial secretary, Carmen Vargas-Rosa, told the Huffington Post that approximately 20 members of the church's congregation of 60 lived above it.

Residents of the building reported smelling gas just after 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday. But less than 20 minutes later, the building exploded with such force that tremors could be felt more than a mile away.

There have been reports that gas leaks had been smelt several times in the building in recent years, and the National Transportation Safety Board is at the scene to investigate the cause of the blast. Rescue workers continue to comb the rubble and debris for survivors.

A prayer vigil for the church has been organised for Thursday morning by New York pastors.

One former member of the congregation of the Spanish Christian Church, Migdalia Mojica, told the Wall Street Journal that the church was a much-loved fixture in the neighbourhood. "Everybody just knew them to be a family church," she said. "That's just a great loss."

The church recently celebrated its 80th anniversary.

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