Con Ed finds gas leak before fatal Floral Park blast

Dozens of firefighters, police and Con Edison workers respond to 80−50 260th St. in Floral Park Friday after an explosion reduced a home to rubble. Photo by PJ Smith
By Howard Koplowitz, Ivan Pereira and Jeremy Walsh

Shortly before 4:50 p.m., the two−story home on 260th Street near 80th Avenue blew up, sending a huge column of smoke billowing into the sky, Fire Department officials said.

Ghanwattie Boodram, 40, was killed in the explosion after returning to the home from St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, where she worked as a nurse, police and family said.

Boodram’s relatives said she moved to Woodside from Guyana in 1997 before settling in Floral Park with her husband in 2000.

Boodram, who received her nursing degree from LaGuardia Community College, chose to settle in Floral Park because its suburban feel reminded her of her laid−back Guyanese hometown.

Relatives said Boodram cared for others outside of her job, noting she would check their blood pressure when they were sick. They said she planned to do charity work at a Guyanese hospital but wanted to wait until her three young sons — ages 6, 9 and 10 — were grown.

“If someone is sick, we call her, she’s right there,” said Boodram’s aunt.

Family said Boodram had just returned from a trip to Canada and was planning a Jamaican vacation before the explosion.

They said her funeral arrangements could not be set because the investigation into the explosion had not ended and officers had yet to release her body.

“You want to bring closure as early as possible,” said Shreenarine Harbajan, Boodram’s uncle. “The longer it goes on, the grief continues more.”

Harbajan said Boodram doted on her three sons, who attend PS 115 where they were at an after−school program when the explosion took place, according to firefighters.

“They were very close to their mother,” he said. “She used to take care of everything — schoolwork, projects. They’re all on top of their classes because of her.”

“She dedicated her life to her three sons and her husband,” Harbajan said. “That was her main goal.”

Two people were taken to North Shore−Long Island Jewish Hospital, one in serious but stable condition, fire officials said. The other victim’s condition was not serious, fire officials said.

Vita and Stanley Barth, who lived next door to the blast, said they called Consolidated Edison Friday afternoon after their lights began flickering on and off and they smelled gas.

Con Ed spokesman Chris Olert said the utility received the report of a gas leak on the block at 3:35 p.m.

“We were there within a half−hour checking the neighborhood,” he said. “Apparently within a few minutes of that, the explosion occurred.”

In a statement released Monday, the utility said its inspectors discovered a “dime−size” hole in a two−inch gas main that served the block and some damaged electrical cable. Con Ed was working with the Fire Department on the ongoing investigation to determine the exact cause.

Vita Barth said the blast sent debris flying through her house.

“It flattened the [other] house completely,” she said. Her own home, where she has lived for 51 years, was completely consumed by flames, she said, noting she, her husband and the Con Ed inspector narrowly escaped the fire.

Stanley Barth said his wife is an artist and they kept a number of her paintings in the house.

“Knowing all the wonderful things we had in it are gone, it’s horrible,” he said, noting the now−homeless couple would have to start the sabbath by moving in with their son.

The couple said they had never experienced a gas leak on the block before and the utility said the area had not had a complaint since 2007.

The blast scattered debris throughout the street and yards of nearby homes. Emergency responders were on the scene within five minutes of the blast, neighbors said. The fire reached three alarms, and firefighters were still at work hosing down the wreckage and the two neighboring homes past 6 p.m. Friday evening.

Anupma Singh, who lives two blocks away, said she was home with her two children when the blast occurred.

“We heard an explosion,” she said. “It was really scary. Everything was shaking.”

A 13−year−old neighbor, who identified himself only as Brandon, said he lives just down the block.

“It shook our house,” he said. “It sounded like something really heavy fell.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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