NEW YORK, NY (TIP): An explosion leveled two buildings March 12 morning in East Harlem, sending flames and smoke billowing into the air. The initial number of 2 killed and about 20 injured has gone up to 8 killed and 70 injured. Speaking from the scene, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the explosion appeared to be caused by a gas leak.
He said there are a “number” of people missing. prior to this evening’s discovery. Several people are reported missing and have not yet been found, Fire Department officials said. Four of the victims have been identified so far. Among them, 43-year-old Andreas Panagopoulos, a Greek musician who worked in advertising; 21-year-old Mexican national Rosaura Hernandez-Barrios; Griselde Camacho, who worked as a public safety officer at Hunter College; and Carmen Tanco, 67.
Other bodies found overnight and this morning include two unidentified adult men and another adult female who was badly burned, city officials said. At least five people were unaccounted for, the NYPD reported before the eighth body was found this evening. One of those women, Rosaura Barrios Vazquez, 44, is believed to be the mother of the deceased Hernandez-Barrios, the Mexican consulate said. The most seriously injured survivor, 15-year-old Oscar Hernandez, is also thought to be related to those two women.
At a news conference on March 12, Mayor Bill de Blasio said authorities are “continuing rescue operations hoping to find others alive.” “This city is no stranger to adversity,” de Blasio said. “We somehow persevere despite everything thrown at us.” At least 70 others were injured in the incident, which happened at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the building at 116th Street and Park Avenue in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Con Edison was responding to a report of a gas odor when the explosion happened, city officials said. “There are still a lot of unknowns here and that only adds to the difficulty,” de Blasio said.
There were no reports of gas leaks in 30 days preceding the incident, Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano said at the press conference. Con Edison also searched its records going back three years and the only reports were minor leaks in customer lines, not gas mains — the latest one in May 2013, said CEO John McAvoy. Before investigators can determine the cause of the explosion, the still smoldering fire will have to be extinguished and the rubble cleared, officials said. “What we need to do is get to the basement,” Cassano said, to find the source of ignition or leak. Google images of the building show two commercial storefronts on the ground floor with four floors of residential apartments above those storefronts. The NYPD has ruled out terrorism as a cause of the explosion, but the bomb squad and the FBI are both on the scene.