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Rescue workers reach basement of NYC blast site

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.

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rlmcanoe March 15 2014 at 8:34 PM

Condolences from Massachusetts to family and friends who lost a loved one, speedy recovery for those that got hurt. what a tragedy. so sorry

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MTN1066 March 16 2014 at 1:24 PM

The best arson investigators in the world FDNYalong with their brothers in thr NYPD will definitely find the reason(s) for this devestating explosion. Kudos to all the brothers and sisters of FDNY. NYPD and EMS who responded you will always be the second to none. Great job.

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phyllru March 16 2014 at 1:23 PM

Typical of NY. They keep building skyscrapers up and further up but never bother to check and repair the old crumbling infrastructure.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
marinebiologist527 March 16 2014 at 1:53 PM

some people just want to die and that was one of the reasons i think

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GGOLDS5 March 16 2014 at 1:13 AM

Gas and water lines installed in the 1800's?. That's New York for ya. When I was 4 my mom and dad and I were in a NYC subway when a piece of tile from the ceiling fell a few feet from my head. If you look at the tile walls and ceilings there are amazing glazed pictures of animal scenes that have been there for about a hundred years. Little has been maintained in NY streets and subways. Eventually the 130 year old pipes and construction are eventually going to fail. Like now. It's so sad because this should have been done over 50 years ago and now the city is becoming truly dangerous in ways it really shouldn't ever be.

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3 replies
steblawar March 15 2014 at 11:34 PM

Wild guess ... I bet it was a leaky gas meter in the basement. Building codes these days usually don't allow gas meters to be placed inside of buildings because at one time a significant majority of gas explosions were caused by leaky gas meters in basements.

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1 reply
Arsenio steblawar March 16 2014 at 12:36 AM

Gas was installed 1800s not up to code.No alarm gas leak detectors.its installed in overflow sump pumps

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1 reply
Tom Arsenio March 16 2014 at 7:09 AM

And where are gas leak alarms installed????? I have never heard of them. Bt I do not live in a big city.

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boozerwilson March 15 2014 at 8:56 PM

It seems that an attempt is being made to shift blame away from Con Edison for the blast. PG&E tried to do the same thing when a blast from one of their pipes removed a considerable portion of the town of San Bruno, California from the map in 2010. The same scenario took place, complaints of gas odor for an extended period, followed by a massive explosion.


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aries932 March 15 2014 at 8:49 PM

down with Con-Ed..

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MOTHER NANHI March 15 2014 at 9:54 PM

Prayers to all!

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Bill Jochimsen March 15 2014 at 9:13 PM

Folks were complaining weeks ago that they smelled gas. NOW they say they are zeroing in on the cause of the explosion? Give me a break!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
bdgrizcp Bill Jochimsen March 15 2014 at 9:40 PM

The cause is not what you think it means. The gas leaked from one of three places: the city's underground piping, the gas meter or the piping inside the building. The first two are owned by NYC, the last one by the owner of the building. Generally the gas meter is located either outside very close to the building or inside an accessible 'meter room'. NYC has high pressure gas piping and uses pressure reducing meters. If I were to hazard a guess I'd say the high pressure line ruptured. As to what ignited it is an issue to be solved.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
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