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NEW YORK -- At least two people were killed and more than a dozen injured Wednesday when a gas leak triggered a major explosion that leveled two five-story buildings in East Harlem, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Both fatalities were women. The New York City fire department said more than 22 people were injured, including two with life-threatening injuries.

The FDNY said more than a dozen people were still missing. The mayor, speaking to reporters at the scene, said finding them is a top priority, but cautioned that many may have simply fled to safety.

This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people, de Blasio said. We have lost two people already.

He promised a thorough search of the rubble after the 200 firefighters -- who began arriving on the scene within two minutes of the blast -- bring the fire under control.

Raphael Ruiz- Moran stood outside with other onlookers waiting to get what information he could. His uncle and other family members live about half a block from the scene and so far, he got no answer when he tried to call.

The buildings -- now flattened -- housed a Spanish Christian Church and a piano repair store at the East Harlem address on Park Avenue between 114th street and 116th Street.

It felt like an earthquake had rattled my whole building, said Waldemar Infante, a porter who was working in a basement nearby. There were glass shards everywhere on the ground, and all the stores had their windows blown out.

The mayor said the explosion occurred at 9:31 a.m. ET, only minutes before a Con Ed utilities team arrived on the scene to check on reports of a natural gas leak.

Elhadj Sylla said he was opening up his sister's African goods about a block away at around 8:45 a.m. when he noticed a faint smell of gas.

Not long after, he rushed outside after hearing a tremendous explosion, but was unable to see anything through the thick air.

It was very dark, said Sylla, 54. There was smoke, dust. I thought maybe the train was coming down, Sylla said, referring to the Metro-North commuter railroad elevated tracks across the street on Park Avenue.

I thought it was the end of the world, he said. I thought my life was ending.

As residents gathered near the scene, white smoke still billowed up from the debris in waves and left a chalky taste in the air.

Ruiz-Moran, who lives a block from the scene and he ran outside when he heard the blast, said he got within half a block of the building.

I saw the people on the ground said Ruiz-Moran, 38. They had cuts. There was glass.

About two minutes after the initial blast, Ruiz-Moran said, he saw a burst of fire, which lasted a couple of minutes.

It sounded like thunder, said Malcolm Jones, 42, who was home at East 159th Street and Fifth Avenue when he heard the blast.

Anthony Saunders, who also lives nearby, said the doors rattled, the windows rattled. He said he rushed to the scene, which was filled with an acidic smell like burning rubber.

Saunders said building was older, likely full of plywood and plaster. it's a 100-year-old building, he said. It's pretty much kindling.

Eoin Hayes, 26, said the explosion shook his apartment building almost 10 blocks away.

I was in my bedroom and the explosion went off, it kind of shook the whole building, Hayes told the Associated Press. You could feel the vibrations going through the building. I ran to the window and saw the fire and the smoke going up and the sirens start.

The Metro-North service into and out of Grand Central Terminal was suspended because of debris on the elevated train tracks.

Contributing: Ken Valenti, The Journal News

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