Published March 13, 2014
Rescue workers were searching Thursday for victims still buried after an explosion apparently caused by a gas leak flattened two apartment buildings, killing at least eight and injuring dozens. At least three of the injured were children.
The number of people injured was unclear. The FDNY said Wednesday night that they could confirm 27 injuries, two of which were life-threatening. However the Associated Press reported that as many as 60 were injured by the blast.
"We have a lot of people in this community deeply concerned... There's a tremendous level of anxiety," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
Hunter College identified one victim as Griselde Camacho, a security officer who worked at the Silberman School of Social Work building. Hunter, in a statement on its website, said Comacho, 45, had worked for the college since 2008.
Also killed was Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist. Her cousin News 12 cameraman Angel Vargas said the family started a frantic search when she didn't show up for work Wednesday.
Police identified another victim as Rosaura Hernandez-Barrios, 21.
The bodies of three unidentified people also were found: a man pulled from the rubble just after midnight Wednesday; a woman found at about 2:50 a.m. Thursday; and a man discovered about a half-hour later.
Just after the explosion, nine residents were said to be missing, but as the number of dead increased, the number of unaccounted for occupants dropped.
The building is located on Park Avenue and 116th Street, which is north of Central Park. The explosion, which hit at around 9:30 a.m. was heard for miles around, and smoke billowed high above the city in the mid-morning hours. At one point more than 160 firefighters battled the resultant five-alarm blaze.
The explosion came around 15 minutes after a neighboring resident reported smelling gas, authorities said. ConEd said it immediately sent utility workers to check out the report, but they didn't arrive until it was too late.
A federal source confirmed to Fox News that an National Transportation Safety Board go team, with about a dozen members, was on its way to the scene Wednesday, as gas pipelines are considered a transportation route and therefore within NTSB jurisdiction.
Sources say they are investigating whether the explosion was due to an aged infrastructure problem, inadequate inspection, poorly maintained equipment, or whether reports of construction in the building played a role.
"The whole building shook," a worker at a nearby travel store told the New York Post.
A resident of the one of the buildings, Eusebio Perez, heard news of the explosion and hurried back from his job as a piano technician.
"There's nothing left," he said. "Just a bunch of bricks and wood."
Perez, 48, said he shared an apartment with a roommate and was unsure what his next steps would be.
"I only have what I'm wearing," he told the Associated Press. "I have to find a place to stay for tonight and organize what's going to be my next steps."
Smoke from the fire in the residential building could be seen in midtown. Video footage shows fire crews fighting the fire and ambulances could be seen lined up on nearby streets. Sidewalks were littered with broken glass, while witnesses said the blast was so powerful it knocked groceries off store shelves.
Caregivers at a nearby daycare center said children heard the explosion and staffers told Fox News they immediately thought of the 9/11 terror attacks that shook the other end of Manhattan more than a dozen years ago.
"I heard a big explosion, Boom!...I made sure my coworker was OK," one witness said.
Metro-North Rail Road initially reported delays on the Harlem Line Service into and out of Grand Central Terminal, but full service was resumed Wednesday evening.
A tenant in one of the destroyed buildings, Ruben Borrero, said residents had complained to the landlord about smelling gas as recently as Tuesday.
A few weeks ago, Borrero said, city fire officials were called about the odor, which he said was so bad that a tenant on the top floor broke open the door to the roof for ventilation.
"It was unbearable," said Borrero, who lived in a second-floor apartment with his mother and sister, who were away at the time of the explosion. "You walk in the front door and you want to turn around and walk directly out."
The fire department said a check of its records found no instances in the past month in which tenants of the two buildings reported gas odors or leaks.
A Red Cross center was set up at a public school, where about 50 people had gathered, including some who were searching for loved ones.
The explosion destroyed everything Borrero's family owned, including the ashes of his father, who died a few years ago. Borrero said he assumes his 5-year-old terrier, Nina, was killed.
But "I have my mother and sister," he said. "I'm happy for that."
Fox News' Catherine Herridge and The Associated Press contributed to this report.