|Copyright , The Associated Press|
NEW YORK (AP) — Emergency workers found two bodies Sunday in the mass of rubble left behind when three apartment buildings collapsed during an apparent gas explosion and fire in lower Manhattan, police said.
Officials investigating Thursday's explosion, in which 22 people were injured, including four critically, suspect someone may have improperly tapped a gas line serving one of the buildings.
Authorities had been looking for signs of two missing men, both believed to have been inside a ground floor sushi restaurant at the time of the explosion: 26-year-old Moises Lucon, who worked at the restaurant, and 23-year-old Nicholas Figueroa, a bowling alley worker who had been there on a date.
The names of the two dead were not immediately released; a medical examiner was to determine the identifications. But a spokesman for the Figueroa family confirmed to reporters at the city Medical Examiner's office that Figueroa's had been pulled from the wreckage.
"It's very hard. The family is distraught. They are going home now to prepare the funeral arrangements," Awilda Cordero told the Daily News.
Earlier Sunday, several members of Figueroa's family visited the blast site in the East Village neighborhood, holding flowers and crying.
During the day, workers raked through piles of loose brick and wood; rescue workers sent search dogs over debris where three apartment buildings once stood.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said someone may have improperly tapped a gas line before the explosion that injured 22 people, four of them critically.
Consolidated Edison (NYSE: ED) said utility workers had discovered in August that the gas line to the restaurant had been illegally tapped. The discovery led Con Edison to shut down gas service to the building for about 10 days while the building owner made repairs. Gas service was restored after the utility deemed it safe, the utility said.
Inspectors from Con Ed had visited that building about an hour before Thursday's explosion and determined work to upgrade gas service didn't pass inspection, locking the line to ensure it wouldn't be used and then leaving, officials said. The work underway was to put in a bigger line to serve the entire building, Con Ed President Craig Ivey said.
Fifteen minutes later, the sushi restaurant's owner smelled gas and called the landlord, who called the general contractor, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. Nobody called the emergency dispatcher or Con Ed.
The contractor, Dilber Kukic, and the owner's son went into the basement and opened a door, and then the explosion happened, burning their faces, Boyce said.
Kukic —who's facing unrelated charges of bribing an undercover investigator posing as a housing inspector — declined through his lawyer to comment on the circumstances surrounding the explosion. City records show Kukic got a permit last June for plumbing, flooring, removing partition walls and other work at the building.
The explosion echoed through the city's arts community, destroying the apartment of actress Drea de Matteo, who starred on the TV mob drama "The Sopranos." She posted photos on Instagram of "a hole where my NYC home of the last 22 years once stood." It also spurred the cancellation of five performances of the propulsive show "Stomp," which is at a theater near the site.
The blast happened a little over a year after a gas explosion in a building in East Harlem killed eight people and injured about 50. A gas leak was reported shortly before that blast.