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Fiery collapse in New York City

An apartment building has collapsed in New York City and burst into flames. Initial reports say 19 people were hurt, four of them critically. Officials say they're checking the possibility of a gas explosion.

Neighbors said a blast occurred in a sushi restaurant on the ground floor of the five-story building in New York's East Village. Only the brick façade of the building remained intact.

It had housed 26 apartments and was built in 1900, according to real estate websites.

More than 250 fire fighters continued to battle a blaze in at least one neighboring building in the city's Second Avenue, amid fears that other structures might also collapse.

Hundreds of onlookers watched emergency services from behind police barricades.

Smoke from the blaze could be smelt in midtown Manhattan, around 40 blocks farther north.

A spokeswoman for the Con Edison utility company declined to comment on the cause, but said gas supplies to the area had been severed as a precaution.

In March last year, eight people were killed in Harlem when a gas explosion leveled two apartment buildings.

The East Village is home to students and wealthy professionals and has an array of restaurants, cafes, boutiques and nightclubs.

ipj/bk (Reuters, APF)

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