“A huge explosion, it felt like a baseball bat [hitting my chest]," Austin Branda remembered. “My shutters [went] flying up, all the dust came through.”
Austin Branda remembers the moment the East Village was forever changed.
“I saw people carrying another person by the arm, he was running and probably thinking he needed to get the hell away from everything,” he said.
It was March 26, 2015 when a gas explosion destroyed three buildings and took two innocent lives.
“When I found out that two people passed on, Nicholas and Moises, I was devastated because I thought everything was okay,” Branda said.
But this longtime New Yorker did help save one life. Without hesitation, Austin ran downstairs, putting himself in danger for his fellow neighbor.
“I heard the screaming of a girl, it was just so powerful, I’ll never forget it,” he remembered. “What did you say to that woman when you brought her down," I asked. "I said I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry this happened to you,” he replied.
A selfless instinct that runs in his blood.
“My grandfather was a medic who stormed Normandy in World War II,” Branda said. "My father’s a doctor, I come from a doctor family so we all have something in us to help.”
Every day, across the street, Austin walks by this empty lot, looks at these posters and is reminded of that tragedy.
“It’s very difficult every day to come down and see it," he said. "It’s a memory of how we have to change some things and I just hope politicians make sure this won’t happen again.”
In February, nearly one year after the deadly explosion, five people were indicted on multiple charges, four with manslaughter. Authorities claim they set up an illegal gas line and didn't warn anyone when things went wrong.
“It’s my second ground zero, I was there [on 9/11] and didn’t need two of them,” Stuart Lipsky said.
Stuart Lipsky lives in the building next door and while he still has a lot of emotion about that day, he said he's proud to be part of a community that truly came together.
“The neighborhood was wonderful, they fed us for free, the clothed us for free, they took care of us," he said. "The neighbors were better than family.”
As for Austin, he continues to contribute to and connect with the city in many different ways.
“I’m very interested in the youngsters in the neighborhood, I like to help out, I like to teach percussion in my free time,” Branda said. "[I also work on Broadway] I love it," he smiled. "[Right now] I work Waitress , which is a fantastic show and I work Hamilton . I’m very proud and honored to be at Hamilton. I love the Lin!”
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi