1 dead, 2 injured in Brooklyn basement explosion

Newsday - June 07, 2006

by CARA TABACHNICK AND ROCCO PARASCANDOLA

A spark from a power tool ignited a powerful explosion that killed one construction worker and badly wounded two others working inside a private home Tuesday in Flatbush.

The owner of the building, at 1166 E. 31st St., did not have a permit for the work -- the basement installation of a mikvah, a ritual bath used by Orthodox Jews -- but it appears the blast happened because the home was not properly ventilated at the time.

The 11:35 a.m. explosion blew out a number of windows on the three-story house and buckled the back and side walls.

Flames from the resulting fire shot out the windows and residents up and down the usually quiet block said they could feel their houses tremble. Debris scattered everywhere.

The construction workers from the Philadelphia firm of JM Pereira Inc., described by people at the scene as specialists in mikvah installations, were spraying a waterproofing material onto the wall of the mikvah when the explosion occurred.

"The vapor was throughout the basement and the first floor," said Fire Deputy Chief Michael Quinn. "When it ignited there was a percussion explosion which blew out the windows of the building and part of the side wall."

One of the workers died at the scene, police said.

The injured men were taken to the hospital, one to Staten Island University North, the other to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.

Both men suffered serious trauma and burns and were described by authorities as critically wounded.

A woman who lives in the home, identified by neighbors as Tziporah Friedman, was inside at the time but escaped injury.

"I heard a noise like a bomb," said Nehat Simone, a plumber working at the time in a building behind the home. "I saw a guy half on fire. He tried to extinguish himself."

Brian Theodore, working at another building nearby, said he saw the same victim kicking off his burning shoes.

"The guy was naked," Theodore said. "He was just wearing his underwear and hat. His clothes had been burned off."

The city Buildings Department said the owner of the home listed in city records as Joseph Friedman, Tziporah's husband would be issued a violation for having the 8-foot-deep mikvah installed without a permit.

Friedman could not be reached for comment and a worker at JM Pereira said the firm had no immediate comment.