A Traumatized Community Struggles to Move On

Explosion In East Harlem on March 12, 2014. (Photo by Randy Lemoine, Creative Commons license)

Explosion In East Harlem on March 12, 2014. (Photo by Randy Lemoine, Creative Commons license)

As the city mourns the eight victims of the East Harlem explosion last Wednesday that also left dozens of injured and hundreds of people evacuated, the largely Hispanic community of “El Barrio” struggles to get back on its feet, El Diario/La Prensa reports.

A story by Zaira Cortés tells of traumatized residents like Genera Sánchez, 52, who has been working for 11 years in the nearby “botánica” Almacén Ochun, on Park Avenue.

“I knew the victims, this is why I’m so affected. Rosaura Barrios and her daughter Rosaura Hernández; Griselde Camacho and Jorge Amadeo were my customers,” she said. “There’s a lot of sadness. It will take time for the wounds to heal.”

Sánchez remembers that the business had opened just minutes before the explosion, which shattered the store’s windows.

“I thought something had happened with the train, but soon a huge cloud of dark smoke descended upon the block,” Sánchez said. “When I knew that the buildings had collapsed, I felt in my soul the families that I had known for more than a decade.”

On the subject of the gas leak, which is the suspected cause of the explosion, Sánchez went on to say that this is a common problem in the area.

“Neighbors would frequently report that they smelled gas,” she said. “The Con Edison people come in and fix it, but in a few days the smell is back.”

Amidst the climate of uncertainty, the displaced didn’t have a clear idea of when they would return home.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio told us that we would be able to come back home in two or three weeks, but nothing is certain,” said Maire Mendoza, from Mexico, who lives near the collapsed buildings. “My family was lodged in a two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx after we spent two days in a shelter on 125th Street.”

Many businesses were affected by the East Harlem explosion of last week (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario).

Many businesses were affected by the East Harlem explosion of last week (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario).

Another story by Zaira Cortés, published March 16, focuses on the impact the explosion has had on the adjacent businesses, some of which suffered damages or are situated in areas restricted by the police.

One of the “indirect victims” of the tragedy is Guillermo Gómez, 52, the owner of the delivery agency Tulcingo Express, on 116th Street between Park and Lexington avenues.

“Access is blocked by the police on both sides of the avenue. Many businesses remain closed under the authorities’ orders,” said Gómez, from Mexico. “You can feel the pain in the neighborhood. Lives and homes have been lost; we can’t deal with so much tragedy.”

Gómez, whose business is one block away from the buildings that collapsed, said that in the past few days his earnings have decreased 40 percent.

“Residents and business owners are required to show an ID to enter the area. That’s intimidating for many people,” he said. “We had to implore the police to let us open the delivery agency because we carry many perishable products, but we could only open for a few hours. Other businesses were not so lucky.”

Griselda Domínguez, 23, who used to work in a building affected by the explosion, said that her neighborhood for 12 years has plunged into sadness and grief.

“Many of us are indirect victims. I lost my job and my relatives can’t go back to their apartments. We don’t know what to do,” said Domínguez, who’s also Mexican.

Another victim is El Diario/La Prensa Editor Liseth Pérez-Almeida, who lost her husband Andreas Panagopoulos and her home. Her colleagues in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists opened a fundraiser page to help her.

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