Early-Morning Staten Island Blast 'Felt Like An Earthquake'

SI Advance - May 18, 2011

by Frank Donnelly

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- An early-morning explosion yesterday tore off the side of a two-story Mariners Harbor building, sending flames into the air and residents scrambling for safety, while injuring one person.

Fire marshals are investigating the cause of the 2:40 a.m. blast at 3012 Richmond Terr., a four-family home on the corner of Harbor Road.

The explosion ripped off the Harbor Road side of the building, exposing its interior like a dollhouse and collapsing part of the structure. It will have to be demolished, said a spokeswoman for the city Buildings Department.

The blast and fire occurred on the second floor, said a Fire Department spokesman. It took firefighters more than two hours to extinguish the blaze.

The injured person was taken to Staten Island University Hospital, Ocean Breeze, with burns of the hand, said the FDNY spokesman.

The American Red Cross is providing temporary housing and other necessities to four families, including 11 adults and five children, who were evacuated from the building and nearby residences, said Michael de Vulpillieres, a spokesman.

Maria Justiniano, a second-floor tenant, said she was awakened by a tremendous shaking.

"It felt like an earthquake," said Ms. Justiniano, who has lived at the building for seven years. "It knocked my husband off the couch." Ms. Justiniano said she and her family raced down the stairs to their exterior door, which is at the rear of the building; it was jammed.

A neighbor kicked in the door, while her husband pulled from inside, allowing them to escape.

First-floor resident Kelly Brown and her family also had trouble opening their door.

"I heard a boom and then a crackling sound, which was my ceiling coming down," she said.

Ms. Justiniano and Ms. Brown said the two other apartments in the building -- one each on the first and second floors -- are unoccupied.

The two residents said the person injured is a woman, who was inside the building but didn't live there. They said they've had a problem with neighborhood drug addicts trying to get into the unoccupied apartments. Officials could not immediately confirm those accounts.

"I'm anxious. Very anxious," said Ms. Brown. "Stuff like this happens in the movies. You don't think it could happen to you.

The side of the building looked as though it had been torn off from front to back by a giant hand.

Kitchens, bedrooms and closets were exposed. An orange-and-white hat swung from a hanger. Pots, pans and dishes sat on a counter. Clothing hung in a closet whose door was no longer there.

Jose Gondola, 29, who lives next door at 3016 Richmond Terr., said he had just fallen asleep sometime around 2:15 a.m. when he felt a slight shaking "like somebody trying to wake me up."

A few minutes later, firefighters were banging on his door, telling him to leave. Gondola said officials told him he could not return to his home yesterday because of the damage.

"The displacement of families and loss of personal property is always disconcerting," said City Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore), whose district covers the fire location and who went to the scene yesterday morning.

Ms. Rose said her office is also advising residents how to get emergency help.

Traffic on Richmond Terrace was detoured around the fire scene.

Attempts yesterday to reach the building owner by phone were unsuccessful.