Harlem Church Still Waiting to Rebuild One Year After Deadly Explosion
Thursday marks the one year anniversary of the devastating gas main explosion in Harlem. It leveled two buildings, including a church, which lost five congregants. NY1’s Jose Martinez looks at how the church is enduring one year later and filed the following report..
A now vacant lot was once home to Harlem's Spanish Christian Church, destroyed in the explosion that killed eight people nearly a year ago.
"It was heartbreaking. There was nothing left and we had put many years there. Many relationships," said Carmen Vargas-Rosa.
Among the dead were five church members, who Pastor Thomas Perez worried about as he tried to get to the wreckage of the buildings ripped apart by a gas explosion.
"I told the policeman, 'I am the pastor, I have to see what happened to my people, to my children.' And he said, 'You cannot pass by.' And I said, 'Well, I have to go'," said Perez.
In the year since the tragedy, the storefront church's congregation has had to go elsewhere for services.
"It never entered our minds that we were never going to come back, or somehow that we were going to disappear, but we were troubled. Where are we going to meet? How can we stay together?" said Vargas-Rosa.
Two Harlem churches, the Bethel Gospel Assembly on East 120th Street and the Church of the Resurrection on East 101st Street, have welcomed worshipers from the church that operated out of 1644 Park Ave. for decades.
“It's God's house, and I just believe that it's a gift not only to us, but it's a gift that we can share with other people," said Kimberly Wright.
Church members say it hasn't been easy to mourn those who died while being uprooted from their longtime home.
"Every day you miss it, because it's like a part of your heart is ripped out," said churchgoer Jonathan Gutierrez.
Nearly one year later, the rebuilding still has not begun. Church leaders say legal issues are in the way, but they're keeping the faith for an eventual return.
"We don't know how long it will take. But we are praying that someday, before we leave this earth, we can rebuild and go back to our old place," said assistant pastor Santos Mercado.
For now, there is no timetable on when the church might be able to return or when construction might start.