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Two critical in Westchester Square explosion, building collapse

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Two men were critically injured in a explosion at a Westchester Square auto repair shop Wednesday morning that caused the roof to collapse on them.

Firefighters had to crawl under the collapsed roof to rescue one of them, officials said.

Benedetto Mondello, 63, and his son Ben Mondello, 35, were opening their B&L Auto Repair shop at 2601 Westchester Ave. about 7:45 a.m. when the blast tore through a secondary building on the property, causing it to collapse, said fire officials.

An FDNY spokesman said that there were no flames when firefighters arrived, but as standard procedure at building collapses, additional units were quickly called in, raising the incident to two alarms.

The two men were taken to Jacobi Medical Center where hospital spokesman John Doyle said the two victims were listed in critical condition.

The official cause of the blast has yet to be determined.

“They claimed that an air compressor used to fix flats went off (and exploded),” Fire Chief Patrick Ruddick said at the scene. “We are waiting for the Fire Marshal to make a determinat­ion.”

Ruddick said that firefighters from Squad 61 crawled under the debris and removed the younger Mondello.

Aman Bachan, 30, said he was working at a BP gas station across the street from the accident when he heard a loud bang.

“We ran outside and saw that the building had collapsed, and called 911,” he said. “It was shocking...and frightening too.”

Dom Rocchio, the owner of Dom’s Auto Body, around the corner from B&L on Blondell Avenue, said that he knew both father and son quite well, and has been friends with Benedetto Mondello since he immigrated from Italy in the late 1960s.

“I hope they are alright,” he said, adding about the two men and their family, “they are very nice people.”

The incident closed traffic backups as the entrance and exit of the nearby Hutchinson River Parkway at Westchester Avenue were closed. Local buses also had to be rerouted, causing commuter delays.

“My son called me an this morning and told me that his bus had been delayed because of the collapse,” said Chary Sloan, 62, of Morris Park, who was standing near the scene. “I hope no one was hurt...I walk past the building sometimes, but...a lot of the buildings here are old and they might not be very well maintained.”

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393
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