NEW YORK — When a pressure cooker bomb exploded on the street in front of Robert O’Garro’s apartment building for the blind, it shook him to his bones — even 11 floors up.
“I felt the shock wave,” said the 58-year-old resident of Selis Manor, the city’s only dedicated apartment building for the blind and vision impaired. “It just came through me. Then I heard the windows breaking.”
Windows were blown out four floors up the 12-story Manhattan building. Elevators stopped. And dust and smoke filled the hallways. But none of the 500 residents was hurt.
More than two dozen people outside in the Chelsea neighborhood suffered mostly minor injuries when Saturday night’s explosion sent out a concussive blast, ball bearings and other metal shrapnel in all directions.
Investigators say an Islamic radical, Ahmad Khan Rahami, placed the bomb and another, which didn’t go off, a few blocks away. Rahami, an Afghan-born U.S. citizen, also is accused of setting off a pipe bomb a few hours earlier in a New Jersey shore town, but that didn’t injure anyone. A public defender has sought a court appearance for Rahami so he can hear the federal terrorism charges against him.
For blind residents of Selis Manor, the explosion outside made them especially anxious because it was unclear what was happening. High-pitched alarms wailed through stairwells and corridors. Shaking that coursed through the building led some to think it was an earthquake.
O’Garro said, “You had people milling in the hallways, saying, ‘What should I do?'”
What 57-year-old blind musician Victor Lopez chose to do was what he does every night: walk his dog.
About midnight, three hours after the attack, he made his way down from his eighth-floor apartment using the stairs. Police would not allow him onto the sidewalk, so he went to the back of the building.
“I heard the noise. It was strong. Wow, it was terrible!” Lopez said. “It was a crazy moment. The police, the firemen — it was crazy.”
Back in his apartment, he listened to radio news with his agitated wife, who’s also blind, “and I tried to calm her down.”
They were up all night, “because we had to pay attention to any announcement telling us to get out.”
But there was no evacuation.
And O’Garro, the 11th-floor resident, had no trouble sleeping.
“This is all part of life,” he said.
That was the sentiment up and down the block, which on Thursday bustled with crowds and packed businesses less than a week after the explosion.
But near the heart of the blast, the King David Gallery glass-and-mirror design store was still heavily damaged. Shattered decorative mirrors, some of which had been priced at more than $1,000 each, were lined up against a wall.
Israeli-born owner Daniel Peretz said the irony is that he and his wife had left their country after a Molotov cocktail was thrown into his wife’s car — only for them to become victims of American violence.
“But don’t let the terrorists scare us,” he said. “If they scare us, where are we going to go? Everywhere it’s the same thing.”
This story has been corrected to show the quote about milling in hallways was from O’Garro, not Lopez.