NEW YORK – Victims of the East Harlem explosion last week that claimed the lives of eight people are still in shock and disbelief, a New York pastor serving as their prayer coordinator said.
"The general sentiment of those who were affected is one of shock, being stunned, disbelief, grief, sadness. We as the Body of Jesus Christ have come alongside them to console them as Jesus Himself does," the Rev. William Devlin, the Clergy Emergency Prayer Coordinator for Victims of the East Harlem Explosion and the Pastor of the Infinity Bible Church, said in an interview with The Christian Post on Wednesday.
Two mixed-use residential and commercial buildings in East Harlem, Upper Manhattan, collapsed on March 12 following a massive explosion due to a gas leak, resulting in eight deaths and a number of people injured.
According to a press release on behalf of those affected by the tragedy, initial information has shown that the explosion might be the result of energy company Con Edison's "negligence and indifference toward the decay of its gas distribution system."
The press release added that this is not the first instance that poor maintenance of Con Edison's utility system has injured or killed New Yorkers, and listed a number of cases in recent years of such incidents.
"The delivery of gas and energy in today's society should be a safe process. We can no longer allow the systems that bring us power to remain constant threats to our lives," Derek S. Sells of the Cochran Firm said in a statement.
Con Edison said that one of its teams was responding to a report of gas odor at the East Harlem site just before the explosion occurred. The energy company had received a call from a resident who said they smelled gas inside the apartment, but thought it might be coming from outside.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, and friends of the victims, to all who have been involved, and to all who are affected," Con Edison stated last week.
Con Edison noted that in the past five years, it has had an annual average of over 31,000 leak calls, and that no leaks were found in about 40 percent of those calls. In 2013, its average response time to calls about gas odors was 22 minutes.
Federal safety authorities launched an investigation into the East Harlem explosion.
"We are operating under the assumption at this point that it is a natural gas leak that led to an explosion," said Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which reviews accidents involving natural gas, according to Reuters.
Pastor Devlin said he hopes poor neighborhoods "will no longer be neglected when it comes to upgrading our infrastructure. There appears to be a disparity."
As prayer coordinator, Devlin told CP that some of his duties include alerting pastors and faith leaders across New York about prayer needs of the victims; coordinating times of prayer at the blast site, where pastors, faith leaders and lay people pray at the site each day; encouraging, praying with and listening to the victims of the blast; and assisting with practical and material needs of the victims, among other responsibilities.
Another East Harlem prayer has been scheduled for 5 p.m. at East Harlem's Prayer Command Center, where Devlin is encouraging people to stop by and pray for the victims.