Emergency workers respond to an explosion and building collapse in East Harlem. (AP Photo)

Two buildings were leveled and eight residents were killed in a huge explosion the morning of March 12 in New York’s East Harlem, igniting a five-alarm blaze. Dozens of people were reported injured.

The blast, believed to be caused by a gas leak according to news reports, happened around 9 a.m. on Park Avenue on 116th Street and claimed one structure that housed a piano repair shop with apartments above it, and a second building that housed a Spanish Christian church.

Hundreds of firefighters descended upon the area to fight the fire among the rubble and debris.

According to CBS New York, witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion—and Carmen Vargas-Rosa, who owns the church, said she smelled was a gaseous odor in the area on Tuesday night.

On March 18, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released an investigative update noting that a gas leak was discovered adjacent to one of the two destroyed buildings.

The Insurance Information Institute says standard property-insurance policies purchased by building owners, businesses and renters typically cover damage due to explosion, fire, smoke and building collapse. “Coverage could include damage to the buildings themselves, damage to the inventory of any businesses in the buildings, and to the personal possessions of renters as well as the cost of additional living expenses for those who are unable to live in their apartments due to the destruction,” I.I.I. says in a statement. 

Loretta Worters, I.I.I. vice president, expands upon the possible insurance scenarios, stating, “If they are renters, they will be covered by their renters insurance for personal property, if they have bought the coverage. If they own their condo or co-op, they will be covered for personal property as well as damage to the interior space of their home.”  
She says the condo association’s insurance might cover fixtures, wiring or plumbing “or it may only provide coverage from the bare walls and not what is behind them, so they’ll need to get a hold of the master policy at some point to understand what’s covered.”
Regarding additional living expenses, covered by most renters and condo/co-op policies, Worters says insureds generally receive 20% of the insurance they have on their home. “Some insurers pay more than 20%; others limit additional living expenses to an amount spent during a specific time period,” says Worters. “We advise people to keep all their receipts to document what they’ve spent.”
For a business such as the piano shop that was located in one of the two buildings, Worters says business interruption would cover lost income, continuing operating expenses, and may include extra-expenses insurance to cover additional costs associated with remaining open during restoration or rebuilding.
However, Worters notes, “A lot of small businesses don’t buy [business interruption].”
Other coverages triggered could include optional comprehensive coverage for automobiles damaged by the explosion, and workers’ compensation for workers (Con Ed employees, Firemen, etc.) who are burned or injured by falling debris at the scene, Worters says.