National News

Bronx Church Steps in to Help After Deadly House Explosion

By Tablet Staff

LONGWOOD — St. Athanasius Church opened its doors to victims and emergency crews following an explosion that leveled a three-story house at 869 Fox St in the Bronx on Jan. 19, killing one woman and critically injuring seven others.

All of the victims displaced by the explosion are parishioners of St. Athanasius, which is located within view of the blast site in the Longwood section of the Bronx.

“When tragedies hit, we always depend on our faith-based communities to step up and that’s exactly what St. Athanasius did. The doors never closed,” Bronx Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. told Currents News.

The victim who died in the explosion was identified as Martha Dagbasta, 77, who had lived on the block for 32 years. 

Ten people were displaced by the explosion. The Red Cross is helping them find temporary housing. 

The Fire Department and the Department of Buildings are investigating to determine the cause of the explosion. But officials said someone called 911 moments before the blast to report smelling gas.

Body camera video shows police officers running into the building to rescue a woman trapped behind a sofa in her apartment. “The five officers that were sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation, they’re heroes,”  Salamanca said. “They saved lives.”

The explosion was so powerful, it blew a front door across the street and into Nelson Roman’s front yard. Days after the blast, he was still in shock.

“It was just a boom, a big boom. And then the house shook. And I was just like, ‘What happened?’” he told Currents News.

Roman said his brother lives in an attached house next door to the blast site, but was at work at the time.

Roman said his faith in God has not been shaken, despite the fact that the blast shook his home.

“We just look for God and for peace, for strength and love and the strength to endure,” he said.

The role St. Athanasius played in the aftermath of the explosion is nothing new for the Bronx parish. 

Juan Sotomayor, a church employee, recalled the 1970s when the Bronx was in dire shape and negligent landlords routinely torched their own buildings to collect insurance money. 

“The church was pretty much the only building that stood in the community and has always been a beacon for people to come and pray and find help,” he said, adding that now, “history repeated itself.”

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York is assisting the victims. To donate, visit: