Five days later, Fire Marshals are still investigating the cause of the gas explosion that left a Flushing man clinging to life in a hospital burn unit, his 23-month-old daughter severely burned - and 37 families unable to return to their homes.
Edgar Zaldumbide remains in an induced coma in the Weill Cornell burn unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital, with severe burns over 75 percent of his body, as his wife Yvonne keeps vigil. Their daughter Melissa is in stable condition at the same hospital.
Zaldumbide and the infant were the most serious casualties of the blast, which turned a summer Friday afternoon into chaos for the residents of Fairmont Hall, a 90-unit apartment building at 147th Street and Sanford Avenue.
“We heard the explosion and the baby crying,” said Janet Figueroa, who was visiting a cousin, Leslie Portillo, in apartment 2F. Portillo and the Zaldumbides regularly attended services at a nearby church.
“We were leaving, but Leslie went back for her papers. Edgar was screaming ‘Leslie help the baby!’ ” Figueroa continued. “She gave her to me and we all went down the stairs.”
A police source confirmed that a Hispanic woman brought the burned child to a police officer, who drove them to the New York Hospital Queens Emergency Room.
Robert Browne, a division commander for the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) at the scene on July 25 confirmed that of the other 15 people injured, six firefighters suffered only minor injuries.
According to witnesses, the entire building - to which gas service had been restored by Con Edison, after six weeks, just 11 minutes before the explosion - shuddered with the force, which collapsed the ceiling between apartment 2P, where the blast apparently took place, and the apartment above.
A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings (DOB) confirmed that 37 of the 90 apartments were still deemed unsafe as of late Wednesday, July 30. “Over the next several days, DOB personnel will escort tenants to their apartments when possible, to retrieve personal belongings,” they said.
David Pace, one of the owners of the building, confirmed that four apartments were virtually demolished, and that the city’s Department of Environmental Protection ordered more than a dozen to be isolated on account of asbestos contamination.
Many of the displaced families had to seek shelter with the Red Cross, which set up operations in the gymnasium of J.H.S. 189, the Daniel Carter Beard Middle School, just across 147th Street on Sanford Avenue, according to the school’s principal, Cindy Diaz-Burgos.
As of press time, the local Red Cross said that they were still providing hotel lodging for three of the displaced families.
Police and Fire units cordoned off several streets around the blast site. The Q12 bus line had to be diverted for five blocks, leaving a single bus and its driver stranded across the street from the building, unable to move.
A spokesperson for the Fire Department said on Wednesday that Fire Marshals had interviewed Con Ed workers, the plumbers and residents “as part of a full and complete investigation,” and “were awaiting test results on evidence,” before issuing their report.
Gas service to the building had been shut off after a fifth-floor kitchen fire on Wednesday, June 11. According to published reports, Jeffrey Pace, who manages the building said that, “extensive problems with the entire network which fed gas to the building” were discovered, and that the 14 “risers” - the vertical pipes which branch off to individual apartments, had to be replaced.
Service to some of the apartments was restored just two days before the explosion, and DOB records indicate that all the lines it tested on Wednesday, July 23 passed.
“Con Edison tested each of the risers in the building for leaks or open valves,” spokesperson Chris Olert said. “They all passed.”
Olert also told The Courier that, “Con Edison employees accompanied workers from the plumbing contractor to some of the apartments. Their job was done and they left.”
The utility company has to check one apartment fed by each mail line to see that the gas is flowing properly, according to Olert. “It’s the contractor’s responsibility from that point on,” he said.
Records show that Con Edison employees left the building at 4:13 p.m. According to Pamela Bayro, 25, who lives in apartment 4P, the plumber finished turning on the gas at 4:20 p.m. Five minutes later, her windows blew out and part of her wall collapsed.
“The Fire Department is the lead agency in the investigation and we’re cooperating with them,” Olert said.

More from Around New York