Rescue workers reach basement of NYC blast site

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...

16 PHOTOS
Harlem Building Collapse
See Gallery
Rescue workers reach basement of NYC blast site
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Heavy equipment sifts through the smoking debris at the scene of a building explosion in East Harlem on March 13, 2014 in New York City. At least 7 people were killed, according to reports, in Wednesday's explosion which collapsed two buildings on Park Avenue at 116th Street. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12: New York City firefighters respond to a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan March 12, 2014 in New York City. Reports of an explosion were heard before the collapse of two multiple-dwelling buildings that left at least 11 injured. Emergency personnel continue the search for around 10 people who remain missing, according to published reports. (Photo by Justin Heiman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12: Firefighters from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) respond to a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan March 12, 2014 in New York City. Reports of an explosion were heard before the collapse of two multiple-dwelling buildings that left at least 17 people injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12: In this image handout provided by the Office of Mayor of New York, firefighters from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) respond to a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan March 12, 2014 in New York City. Reports of an explosion were heard before the collapse of two multiple-dwelling buildings at East 116th St. and Park Avenue that left at least 17 injured and a number of people are missing. (Photo by Rob Bennett/Office of Mayor of New York/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from debris as a firefighter stands near rubble a day after a gas leak-triggered explosion, Thursday, March 13, 2014, in East Harlem, New York. Rescuers working amid gusty winds, cold temperatures and billowing smoke pulled additional bodies Thursday from the rubble of two apartment buildings that collapsed Wednesday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
A firefighter applies water to rubble a day after a gas leak-triggered explosion, Thursday, March 13, 2014, in East Harlem, New York. Rescuers working amid gusty winds, cold temperatures and billowing smoke pulled additional bodies Thursday from the rubble of two apartment buildings that collapsed Wednesday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, talks with first responders near the site of a gas leak-triggered explosion in East Harlem, Thursday, March 13, 2014, in New York. Rescuers working amid gusty winds, cold temperatures and billowing smoke pulled additional bodies Thursday from the rubble of two apartment buildings that collapsed Wednesday. (AP Photo/The Daily News, Marcus Santos, Pool)
Firefighters respond to a fire on 116th Street in Harlem after a building exploded in huge flames and billowing black smoke, leading to the collapse of at least one building and several injuries, Wednesday, March 12, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Alecia Thomas, left, is comforted by her friend, Shivon Dollar, after she lost her home following an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee says a resident from a building adjacent to the two that collapsed reported that he smelled gas inside his apartment, but thought the odor could be coming from outside. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Rubble is seen Friday, March 14, 2014, two days after a natural gas explosion leveled two apartment buildings in New York, Friday, March 14, 2014. Using sound devices to probe for voices and telescopic cameras to peer into small spaces, workers searching a pile of rubble from a gas explosion in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, continued to treat it as a rescue operation, holding onto the possibility of finding survivors from a blast that brought down two apartment buildings and killed at least eight people. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
A Metro-North train rolls by on overhead tracks as a tractor picks up debris from the site of a building explosion in New York, Friday, March 14, 2014. Using sound devices to probe for voices and telescopic cameras to peer into small spaces, workers searching a pile of rubble from a gas explosion in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, continued to treat it as a rescue operation, holding onto the possibility of finding survivors from a blast that brought down two apartment buildings and killed at least eight people. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Firefighters look over the site of a building explosion in New York, Friday, March 14, 2014. Using sound devices to probe for voices and telescopic cameras to peer into small spaces, workers searching a pile of rubble from a gas explosion in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, continued to treat it as a rescue operation, holding onto the possibility of finding survivors from a blast that brought down two apartment buildings and killed at least eight people. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A vehicle crushed by debris from a building explosion is seen on the street, Friday, March 14, 2014, in New York. Using sound devices to probe for voices and telescopic cameras to peer into small spaces, workers searching a pile of rubble from a gas explosion in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, continued to treat it as a rescue operation, holding onto the possibility of finding survivors from a blast that brought down two apartment buildings and killed at least eight people. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
An excavator removes debris from the site of a building explosion, Thursday, March 13, 2014 in New York. Rescuers working amid gusty winds, cold temperatures and billowing smoke pulled four additional bodies Thursday from the rubble of two New York City apartment buildings, raising the death toll to at least seven from a gas leak-triggered explosion that reduced the area to a pile of smashed bricks, splinters and mangled metal. The explosion Wednesday morning in Manhattan's East Harlem injured more than 60 people. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
An excavator removes debris from the site of a building explosion, Thursday, March 13, 2014 in New York. Rescuers working amid gusty winds, cold temperatures and billowing smoke pulled four additional bodies Thursday from the rubble of two New York City apartment buildings, raising the death toll to at least seven from a gas leak-triggered explosion that reduced the area to a pile of smashed bricks, splinters and mangled metal. The explosion Wednesday morning in Manhattan's East Harlem injured more than 60 people. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION


NEW YORK (AP) -- With most of the rubble of two New York City apartment buildings cleared away, investigators hope to uncover the cause of an explosion that flattened them, killed eight people.

City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said Saturday that investigators should be able to get to the gas pipes and meters in the front of the buildings' basements Sunday, adding, "We'll be in full swing with the investigation."

Arson detectives and fire marshals have been waiting to enter the basements to examine meters, check pipes and inspect any possible ignition sources, such as light switches, that might have caused the blast.

Cassano said all but 15 percent of the rubble from the buildings had been cleared away late Saturday.

The theory that Wednesday's explosion was due to a gas leak gained momentum Friday after the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates pipeline accidents, said underground tests conducted in the hours after the explosion registered high concentrations of natural gas. The NTSB will conduct its own inquiry after police and fire officials determine what might have caused the explosion.

An uplifting moment from the painstaking recovery effort came Saturday as crews pulled a large water-damaged Bible from the rubble of the Spanish Christian Church, which had been located in one of the two buildings. About two dozen people carried the Bible in a solemn procession near the East Harlem site.

"This was in the depths of the rubble. Somehow God protected it," said Rick del Rio, a bishop at the Church of God.

The Rev. Thomas Perez, pastor of the Spanish Christian Church, had heart palpitations when he saw the Bible, said Letitia James, the city's public advocate. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital as a precaution, supporters said.

Cassano said Perez was overwhelmed with emotion.

"It was singed, but it meant an awful lot to the pastor," he said. "It showed the pastor that they'll be rebuilding."

Truckloads of scattered material will be sifted for any traces of human remains that might not have been found at the site, Cassano said. Although the bodies of all eight people reported missing have been recovered, the rescue operation was continuing in case others may be buried beneath the rubble, he said.

More than 60 people were injured in the explosion, and more than 100 others were displaced.

Police have identified six of those who died: Griselde Camacho, 45, a Hunter College security officer; Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist who participated in church-sponsored medical missions to Africa and the Caribbean; Andreas Panagopoulos, 43, a musician; Rosaura Hernandez, 22, a restaurant cook from Mexico; George Ameado, 44, a handyman who lived in one of the buildings that collapsed; and Alexis Salas, 22, a restaurant worker.

Mexican officials said another Mexican woman, Rosaura Barrios Vazquez, 43, was among those killed.

The name of the eighth person recovered, a woman, hasn't been released.

After touring a Red Cross shelter where some of the displaced residents have been housed temporarily, Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged his support to find suitable temporary or long-term housing options for those displaced.

"It's our obligation as the city of New York, and I know all New Yorkers feel this way, to stand by them," he said.

De Blasio planned to attend a service Sunday at a church near the blast site that lost two members in the explosion, the Bethel Gospel Assembly.

Investigators were trying to determine whether the explosion had anything to do with the city's aging gas and water mains, some of which were installed in the 1800s. More than 30,000 miles of decades-old, decaying cast-iron pipe still are being used to deliver gas nationwide, according to U.S. Transportation Department estimates.

Fire and utility officials said that if the buildings were plagued in recent days or weeks by strong gas odors, as some tenants contend, they have no evidence anyone reported it before Wednesday. An Associated Press analysis of the city's 311 calls database from Jan. 1, 2013, through Tuesday also found no calls from the buildings about gas.

The blast erupted about 15 minutes after someone from a neighboring building reported smelling gas, authorities said. Con Edison said it immediately sent workers to check out the report but they got there too late.

Read Full Story

People are Reading