Sunday, December 21, 2014

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East Harlem Residents Hold Vigil to Support Each Other

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Tragedy often brings out the best in New Yorkers, and the East Harlem community is certainly coming together to support each other following the explosion. NY1's Mahsa Saeidi filed the following report.

A block away and the day after the deadly explosion in East Harlem, activists, religious leaders and community members came together.

"We know that you are our strength and our fortress," said the Rev. Joanne Santana of the House of Restoration in Staten Island.

It was so cold and windy that they couldn't light the cancels at the vigil. Still, they honored the friends they lost and prayed for the family members of those who are still missing.

"We are a community, and so as they hurt, the families hurt. We also hurt with them. They're not alone," Santana said.

"Honestly, I don't think we've ever experienced anything like this in East Harlem," said Bishop Annette Jimenez of Christian Church I'm Still Standing.

"The community is suffering right now, and when the community suffers, we all suffer," said Clark Pena, vice president of the Democratic Club of East Harlem.

Pena, who was born and raised nearby, put together the prayer vigil. He said that it's the first step in the healing process.

For so many of his neighbors, the tragedy brings back bad memories.

"The 9/11 smell," Pena said.

"You feel that 9/11 effect," said another person.

A few blocks away, NY1 spoke with Pastor Thomas Perez, the pastor of the Spanish Christian Church that was destroyed. Perez not only lost his church in the deadly blast, but also part of his congregation.

"The families are brokenhearted because they love their children, and we just found that four of the members are dead," Perez said.

Eileen Lapuma lives on the block that was destroyed. While she is grateful that all of her family escaped harm, she said that her son is still suffering.

"My son, he has ADHD and autism, so he has sensory issues," Lapuma said. "And when he heard the big boom, he just turned really hysterical and he was crying. He was saying, 'Oh my gosh, my daddy, mommy, they're going to die, we're going to die.'"

"The windows, it was going to fall on mommy, and I got worried, so I went to the living room," said Alexander Cartagena, Lapuma's son. "Then, I saw mommy didn't get hurt. It almost collapsed and fell on mommy's head."

The Lapuma family expects to be back home soon. Meanwhile, folks in East Harlem said that they are resilient and will survive this.

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