The explosion that thundered through parts of New York City Wednesday, devastated East Harlem's Spanish Christian Church, killing five church members, and leaving a large part of the congregation homeless because their apartments were right above the church.
Thomas Perez, the church's pastor confirmed to the New York Daily News, that the ground floor of 1644 Park Ave. was occupied by the Spanish Christian Church, which was founded 80 years ago.
"I know that everything is in God's hands," he said in a near whisper at a prayer meeting near the scorched site Thursday, and searched for words to explain the tragedy. "We believe that they are in a better place. No more suffering, that's what we believe."
About his flock, he regards them as his missing family.
"I'm the pastor and they were my children, and some of them are missing in such a horrible way," he said. "The building is no longer there but we are still here, and we are going to keep on going."
One among the three that rescuers search for is also part of Perez's flock.
Neighboring churches held a prayer vigil today with Pastor Perez where he barely spoke according to most reports, still shocked by the last 24 hours. The neighboring churches plan to raise money for the church at this sunday's services.
Eight people have been found dead in the smoldering rubble of the two five-story buildings at the center of the blast, which many believe was caused by a gas explosion. 74 others were injured, Many among them children. Most of the injured are expected to survive.
Rescuers are still fighting fires in the debris as they use heavy equipment to dig through the wreckage caused by the massive blast that sent tremors as far as a mile and threw debris for blocks.
The blast shattered windows of surrounding buildings and forced evacuations in seven of them, officials said. The Red Cross told nbcnews that nearly 70 are displaced and are staying at the Salvation Army. Many among the group are children, according to the report.
According to NBC New York, Five of the eight victims killed in the explosion have been identified as Griselde Camacho, 44, Carmen Tanco, 67, Rosaura Hernandez, 22, Andreas Panagopoulos, 43, and Rosaura Barrios Vazquez, 43. Three others have not been identified.
FDNY spokesman Jim Long, told reporters acrid smoke, high winds and cold temperatures complicated the responder's efforts Thursday. He described the scene as "terrible and traumatic."