AP National WriterNEW YORK (AP) -- Neighbors jolted from their beds as a jet crashed near their homes on Monday ran outside with fire extinguishers and garden hoses, trying to fight fires left by debris from the crash, witnesses said.
"The whole house jumped," said John Maroney, 47, who said pieces of plane fell a few blocks from his home. "That's probably what shook us up from our beds."
Smoke rose from the residential neighborhood in the shadow of air traffic from nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport as police and fire crews raced to the scene. Two local schools -- empty of students for the Veterans Day holiday -- were turned into triage centers to prepare for injured.
Maroney said the jet engine fell onto a nearby Texaco station, sparking a fire.
"We were all out there with fire extinguishers and hoses but we couldn't do much," Maroney said. An unidentified witness told a local television station that neighborhood residents ran to the burning buildings to try and help.
The American Airlines jetliner was on its way to the Dominican Republic with 255 people aboard when it crashed moments after takeoff. Bush administration officials said the FBI believed there was an explosion aboard the plane, and was investigating whether it was the result of a mechanical failure or sabotage.
It was unclear how many buildings were on fire; one witness said six or seven may have been burning.
"We have several conflicting reports of what happened," Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, before he went aloft in a helicopter to view the scene. "Obviously, it did a lot of damage. We don't know the full extent of it."
"Everyone should remain calm," he said. "Right now the Fire Department and Police Department are engaged in trying to rescue any survivors."
One terrified resident told CNN she was baking when she saw the plane hit behind her house.
"Actually it was a huge, loud sound. It seemed so loud that I was like ducking almost," she said. "And then it blew up into a huge fireball and I jumped out the second floor of my house. It was horrible. I ran right across the street first because we were in shock, then we had to evacuate. It's unbelievable, it's horrible."
"I went over the deck in the front of my house because the back was so hot,' said the woman, who was not identified. Asked if she was injrued, she said: "I can't really think about that right now."
A block or two from Jamaica Bay, the neighborhood includes a small shopping strip. A Roman Catholic Church and elementary school are also nearby, said Sanford Bernstein, general manager of a weekly Rockaways paper, The Wave.
The black smoke, he said, had turned to white by 10 a.m.