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7/10/06-New York City

New York Building Collapse Injures 15

A New York City building erupted in flames and collapsed after an explosion Monday, and investigators are looking into whether the blast may have resulted from a suicide attempt, a fire official told CNN.

Five people were injured in the morning blast at the four-story building on the city's Upper East Side, and 10 firefighters were hurt in the aftermath.

New York Fire Department Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said that it "appears to have been a gas explosion." A spokesman for energy company Con Edison said one of its technicians was in a building next door at the time of the explosion and reported the odor of gas in the air.

Among the injured was the owner of the building, Dr. Nicholas Bartha, who was being treated Monday afternoon for second- and third-degree burns at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, according to the New York Fire Department.

Scoppetta said Bartha -- who worked in and owned the half-business, half-residential building on East 62nd Street -- sent an e-mail to someone in the neighborhood that "leads us to believe this may have been a suicide attempt."

Bartha had been struggling with a difficult divorce, according to Polly Passonneau, the attorney representing his ex-wife, Cordula Bartha. Passonneau said the doctor had sent Cordula Bartha an e-mail that implied he was threatening to commit suicide.

There were a number of addressees on the e-mail in addition to her client's, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which, Passonneau said, indicates he may have been in an unusual state of mind when he sent it.

A divorce court ruling obtained by CNN says Bartha intentionally traumatized his ex-wife, a Jewish woman who was born in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation, by taunting her with "swastika-adorned articles and notes affixed around their home."

Attorneys for the doctor could not be reached for comment.

When Bartha was pulled from the debris he was injured but alert, Scoppetta told CNN. The FDNY said Bartha had been described as communicative.

One victim in critical condition

Ten firefighters were hospitalized during the rescue effort with injuries that were not thought to be life threatening, apparently the result of heat exhaustion and smoke, a FDNY spokesperson said.

Five civilians also were injured, with one refusing medical treatment and the other four hospitalized.

One of the hospitalized civilians was in critical condition, and another was in serious condition, according to NewYork-Presbyterian spokesman John Rodgers. The two other civilians were being treated for minor injuries.

A New York Office of Emergency Management official said fire marshals were investigating to find where the explosion was ignited.

Scoppetta said the fire began in the basement of the building, where the doctor was found.

Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for New York's City's Department of Buildings, said the first floor and basement of the building contained doctors' offices, the second floor contained a single apartment, and the third and fourth stories were made up of a duplex apartment.

The building has been owned by Dr. Bartha since his parents, John and Ethel Bartha, deeded it to him in 1981, according to a document from New York's Office of City Registry.

Bartha's primary specialty is cardiovascular diseases, and he is registered with the American Board of Medical Specialties Certification for emergency medicine, according to the American Medical Association Web site.

Clouds of black smoke boiled from the building after the blast. As it cleared, firefighters moved in, going through the rubble in an attempt to rescue anyone injured.

The explosion blew out the windows with glass flying across the street, eyewitnesses report.

However, there was not significant structural damage to adjacent buildings -- only a few cracks and broken windows -- according to a person with the Department of Buildings. One did suffer water damage.

Eyewitness Theodore Milonas told CNN that three women emerged from the rubble after it exploded and were covered in blood.

Ann McGovern, a neighbor across the street, told CNN she "witnessed two bloody people exiting the building just minutes after the explosion."

CNN's Larry King was in a nearby hotel at the time of the explosion. He said it felt like an earthquake. "I've never heard a sound like that," King said.

The fire department received a call reporting the explosion at 8:40 a.m., according to FDNY spokeswoman Emily Rahimi.

In Washington, administration officials quickly said there was no suspicion of terrorist involvement in the explosion.

T.J. Muncan, a real estate agent in the residential area around the building, estimated the property value for the 32 E. 62nd Street address could be $15 million to $20 million.

The building was between taller structures on East 62nd Street between Park and Madison avenues a few blocks from Central Park. (Map)

CNN's Cheryl Bronson, Katy Byron, Allan Chernoff and Delia Gallagher contributed to this report.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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