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New York explosion: fire crews battle blaze in East Village

An explosion in the East Village neighbourhood of Manhattan in New York City has caused a 2nd Avenue building to collapse and another building is on fire, according to local reports.

FDNY tweeted that the fire had grown to seven-alarm status, indicating the severity of the blaze. Reports suggest that people still may be inside the building.

The explosion happened about 3:20 pm on Thursday. Local media reported that the building is home to a restaurant, with apartments above.

A spokesman for the New York fire department said it remains an active situation and that two buildings are on fire.

The mayor said preliminary evidence suggested a gas-related explosion was to blame.

Orange flames billowed from the blaze on a block near New York University as 120 firefighters converged to fight it. Smoke could be seen and smelled for miles. Investigators were looking into whether there had been a gas leak.

Firefighters said at least 12 people were hurt, three critically, and other people were being evaluated at the scene. The area is being evacuated, and the city's health department advised residents to keep their windows closed because of the smoke.

Freelance photographer Michael Seto, who lives nearby, said he was having lunch when the explosion shook his apartment.

He grabbed his camera, ran outside and found a crowd gathering, looking at a brick tenement-style building with a restaurant on the first floor.

"By the second storey, the front part of the building, the facade, the first and second stories, it looked like, had collapsed into the street," he said.

Rubble was on the pavement, and glass and debris had been flung across an avenue.

As Mr Seto ran up to the building, a fire was starting inside it.

"It spread very quickly and pretty much engulfed the first floor," he said.

He saw one person lying on the ground, being attended to by two to three passers-by who were holding his head still. A woman was sitting on the curb with blood coming down her face, and another woman walked past him with blood on her face.

Adil Choudhury, who lives a block away, ran outside when he heard "a huge boom".

"Already there was smoke everywhere" when he saw the building, he said. "The flames were coming out from the roof. The fire was coming out of every window."

Items from a ground-floor sushi restaurant were blown into a street, and the explosion was so forceful that it blew the door off a cafe across the avenue. Rubble, glass and debris littered pavements.

Crews with utility Con Edison were at the scene and planned to start investigating after firefighters got the blaze under control.

Area resident Paul Schoengold said he was walking about two blocks away when he heard an "incredibly loud" roar.

"Then the fire started. I could see the flames on the roof, and they kept getting higher," shooting perhaps 50 feet into the air, he said.

The fire happened little over a year after a gas explosion in a building in East Harlem killed eight people and injured about 50.

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