By Howard Koplowitz, Ivan Pereira and Stephen Stirling
A 23-month-old girl in serious condition was among 16 people injured in an explosion and fire that tore through a Flushing apartment building Friday, where gas lines had been shut off since early June until two days ago, fire officials and tenants said.
The explosion started at around 4:30 p.m. in apartment 2P of the building known as Fairmont Hall at 147-25 Sanford Ave., fire officials said. Four other apartments on the second floor suffered damage along with two on the third floor.
Tenant Sebastian Celestin was in the lobby elevator waiting to meet his girlfriend when the blast tore through the building.
“We just heard everybody scream,” Celestin said. “I just heard a big boom and then I saw the air conditioner fans from the building flying off. There was just panic and stuff going on.”
Fire officials said 16 people suffered injuries in the blast, including a 23-month-old girl who was rescued by police officers before fire trucks arrived. She was listed in serious condition, while two others were in critical condition and taken to the burn center at Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Another eight civilians were injured along with five firefighters, fire officials said.
Celestin’s girlfriend, Sarah El-Tawil, described the gruesome injuries to one of the victims.
“His clothes were all blown off,” she said. “He had blood coming out of his ears. A little boy was separated from his family and he was screaming and crying.”
Frankie Guida, 13, the son of the building’s superintendent, said he was in the basement when he heard the explosion.
“My dad came running down and told me to get out,” he said. “I saw this guy and his skin was peeling off. There was blood all over.”
Another tenant, Bellanira Sanchez, said Con Edison turned the gas back on one of the building’s gas lines two days ago. It had been without gas since June 11, she said.
“I’ve been concerned about the gas line and everybody’s safety and my safety,” she said. “I haven’t been able to sleep at night. I’ve been worried that there might be an explosion.”
Sanchez said she spoke with the tenant in 2P about the gas being back on and said she smelled a strong gas odor when he turned on the stove two days ago.
“I smelled the gas and the flames were going like crazy,” she said. “I called Con Edison that night.”
Con Edison was working on the building but left shortly before the explosion, fire officials said.
A tenant who lives next door to 2P said she was horrified from the incident.
“On the one side of building, it was like a war zone,” said the tenant, who only wanted to be identified by her last name, Bradford.
Fire officials said a city Department of Buildings inspector declared the apartment complex “structurally sound,” although there was a partial wall collapse.
All tenants had to evacuate the building for the time being.