BOSSIP Exclusive: East Harlem Explosion Family To Sue NYC One Year After Disaster

- By Bossip Staff

Melendez-Lapuma Family Among Scores Seriously Injured In March 2014 Explosion

It was a morning just like any other in the Melendez-Lapuma home in East Harlem one year ago today.

Mom Eileen Lapuma was up, cleaning the apartment and making breakfast for her seven-year-old son, Alex. Alex’s grandma, Maria Melendez, was still asleep in her bedroom.

“I was going to the hallway, and I heard a strong, shaking noise,” Lapuma, 28, told Bossip. “The room shook. I was terrified. My son was screaming.”

Grandma Melendez was jolted awake by the sounds of her bedroom windows being blown out. Lapuma tried to rescue her mother from her bedroom, but the blast jammed the bedroom door shut. Lapuma used her shoulder to force open the door and free Melendez. Alex cowered in the bathroom with the family’s dog.

“I was freaked out,” Alex, who is diagnosed as autistic, said. “I was panicking. I never saw an explosion like that before.”

Lapuma grabbed her mother— who was barefoot— and her son and ran outside into the frigid morning.

“I was in pajamas,” Lapuma said. “My son was in pajamas. The only thing I was able to grab was my cellphone and the dog.”

Seven people were killed and more than 50 were injured when a 127 year old gas pipe ruptured underneath the Spanish Christian Church, leveling it and the apartments above.

The Melendez-Lapuma family lived just next door, 10 feet from the explosion site. They were homeless for a month after the disaster; Melendez stayed in a shelter in the Bronx, but Lapuma and Alex shuttled from house to house.

“We tried going to a shelter,” the stay-at-home mom confided, “but my son had a nervous breakdown. So I had to stay with friends and family, bounce from place to place.”

 

All three now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, panic attacks and fearfulness, but Alex’s mom and grandma believe he’s suffered the worst. He gets jumpy when he hears loud noises, he’s afraid of the dark and he hates being alone.

“It’s really affected him,” Melendez, who is disabled, said of her grandson. “He runs under the bed to hide. And he wets the bed.”

Family lawyer, Robert Vilensky, who plans to sue the city on behalf of the family, said the explosion made the boy’s autism even worse.

“You take a person who has an underlying condition, and you add this kind of anxiety and fear to it,” Vilensky said, “all it does is multiply it ten-fold.”

The family is now in therapy and on medication, and said they are still living with the after effects of explosion’s aftermath.

“It can be a normal regular day,” Lapuma said, “and your whole life changes on you.”

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