Is Con Ed to Blame for Tragedy in Harlem? - The Jewish Voice
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Monday, September 25, 2023

Is Con Ed to Blame for Tragedy in Harlem?

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Two five-story tenements were reduced to rubble in minutes when a gas leak caused a fatal explosion in Harlem that left 8 people dead
Two five-story tenements were reduced to rubble in minutes when a gas leak caused a fatal explosion in Harlem that left 8 people dead
The word “tragedy” is often misused; denoting relatively unimportant events such as a team losing a World Series, or the inevitability of a 97-year old woman sent to a nursing home because of some medical condition. But its meaning could not be more apt in the March 12th explosion at two Harlem tenements, killing eight and wounding 70. That was a “tragedy” because it truly could have been prevented.

For days there were reports of residents smelling gas, but for some reason they did not alert officials or Con Edison. Only that morning, did someone finally report the gas leak; Con Ed claiming they were dispatched within several minutes. Alas, they still arrived too late as both buildings collapsed and burst into flames. No words can possibly express the pain and sorrow of those who were killed or injured not to mention their families. It will stay with them forever, if only because it could so easily have been prevented!

Who is at fault? It is hard to say at this point as the investigation is on-going and will take weeks to determine the precise cause—although it appears that the likelihood is of a gas leak, which only highlights the city’s aging infrastructure which will have to be replaced to avoid similar outcomes. Yet Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano stated there were no reports of gas leaks in 30 days preceding the incident, while Con Ed searched its records going back three years and only found reports of minor leaks in customer lines, not gas mains.

Yet two five-story tenements were reduced to rubble in minutes, and they are among thousands of classic New York prewar structures that continue to house hundreds of thousands of residents, who are still at risk.

A report released only the day before the explosion – by the Center for an Urban Future, stated, “Simply put, too much of the city’s essential infrastructure remains stuck in the 20th Century – a problem for a city positioning itself to compete with other global cities in today’s 21st Century economy.” According to the Center, New York will have to spend about $47 billion to maintain or replace much of its infrastructure – including its water mains, transportation lines, and public buildings.

Naturally, Con Ed will face scrutiny for this tragic event. Could it have been prevented? Could they have come sooner? Should they have evacuated all the residents immediately as soon as they were notified of the gas leak? And what of the residents? It is clear they smelled gas for days but didn’t’ report it? How much are they to blame?

One thing, however, is certain. Mayor de Blasio does not know the meaning of “tragedy.” He stated at a news conference, “This is a “tragedy” of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people.” Quite the contrary! Perhaps the mayor needs to find a more appropriate dictionary!

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