'Bug Bomb' Explosion Partially Destroys Chinatown Building, Injuring Eight
CHINATOWN — As many as 20 exploding bug bombs partially destroyed a Chinatown building and left eight people hurt Thursday afternoon, police sources said.
The explosion occurred at 17 Pike St. about 12:50 p.m., where the rear of the first floor collapsed, leaving three of the injured people in serious condition suffering from burns and smoke inhalation, fire officials said.
According to police sources, cops believe one of the nearly two dozen pesticide canisters ignited by a stove's pilot light went off in Piao Liang Ren Sheng Beauty Salon in the rear of the building's first floor, causing the rest to go off in succession.
Cops found a box of roughly a dozen unexploded Raid and d-Con bug bombs in the rear of the building, sources said.
Sources said officials have also not ruled out the possibility that a gas leak was the cause of the explosion.
The blast had enough force to knock over a load-bearing joist. The bombs, also known as foggers, release gas to kill roaches and other pests. The gas can be explosive if exposed to flame, cops said.
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries during the rescue, according to FDNY Assistant Chief Robert Boyce, who added that the building had existing fire code violations.
The victims were taken to Bellevue, New York-Presbyterian, the former New York Downtown and Beth Israel hospitals.
An FDNY EMS source said the victims included a 50-year-old man and his 12-year-old son, who was suffering seizures.
A family member of two of the victims was waiting for news of her uncle at New York-Presbyterian.
"He is suffering from carbon monoxide inhalation — he breathed in too much," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "My cousin is at Bellevue. I really don't know how he's doing."
One witness, Brooklyn resident John Shun, 24, said he saw three of the injured being taken away, including one 12-year-old boy who was conscious but covered with blood on his back, as well as a 13-year-old girl.
The tenement building is home to the salon in the rear and a bus company in the front, along with four floors of apartments.
A spokesman for the Red Cross said that 34 adults and 7 children from the building's 18 apartments registered with the organization. It was unlikely that they would be allowed back into their apartments Thursday evening, the spokesman said.
The building has a history of structural problems, according to records.
City inspectors ordered the building evacuated in January 2009 after they found it shaking and structurally unsafe, Department of Buildings records show. Families living there were allowed to return in March of that year.
The Buildings Department did not respond to a request for information on the violations.
Residents said the building had a frequent problem with roaches.
"There were always plenty of cockroaches," said one 39-year-old tenant, who declined to give his name. "About the size of a penny."
Calvin, 45, said that his mother has lived in the building for 40 years, and he and his family only moved out a few months ago. He said that much of the building was in a state of disrepair.
"The owner never takes care of the problems she needs to take care of — the wiring, the floor in general, leaking water," he said.
"I guess the building finally popped."
Investigators also stumbled upon evidence that the building might be stealing electricity and gas service, but had not determined the gas line's relation to the explosion, a source said.
A spokesman for Con Edison said that the company sent a crew to turn off gas and power to the building as a precaution, but could not determine if there had been a gas leak.
After the tenants were evacuated, firefighters ripped out glass windows on the top floor of the building, as about a hundred people watched.
Local business owner Tao Ping Lin said he heard a "very loud explosion."
"I heard explosions, saw fire, and called 911 right away," Ling said through a translator, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin.
Chin arrived on the scene after the explosion to make sure residents were able to get home as quickly as possible.
"It could've been a lot worse," she said.
Winnie Mui, 23, a teacher at nearby P.S. 2, heard the explosion.
"We heard a large pop," she said. "It was a burning smell."
One of the building's owners, Tom Shiu, said he was on his way to Manhattan from Trenton, N.J., but could not provide details about the incident or about how many tenants lived in the building.
"I don't even know what's going on there," he said. "You ask me, I ask God."
With reporting by Serena Solomon and Ben Fractenberg