New York City gas explosion subject of federal probe

New York City gas explosion subject of federal probe

NEW YORK - Federal safety authorities launched an investigation on Thursday into a gas explosion that caused the collapse a day earlier of two New York City apartment buildings, killing eight people and injuring dozens of others.

The still-smoldering rubble prevented investigators from getting close enough to examine the main pipe that supplies natural gas to the Upper East Side neighborhood, said Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which reviews accidents involving natural gas.

When firefighters say the area is safe, he said, investigators will conduct a pressure test on the pipe to find the location of the leak that may have caused the blast. "We are operating under the assumption at this point that it is a natural gas leak that led to an explosion," Sumwalt said.

The explosion at about 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT) on Wednesday shook the East Harlem neighborhood shortly after a resident complained to the Con Edison utility about a gas odour.

Sumwalt said the scene was "in one word, devastating." "You've got basically two five-story buildings that have been reduced to essentially a three-story pile of bricks and twisted metal," he said. "The smell of smoke is omnipresent." Five women and three men were killed, police said, but not all victims' identities have been released. The latest victim was female and pulled from the rubble late on Thursday, police said.

Victims include Griselde Camacho, 44, a public safety officer for Hunter College in East Harlem; Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist; Rosaura Hernandez, 21, and Andreas Panagopoulos, 43.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said 40 people were injured. He declined at an earlier news conference to say how many remain unaccounted for, although New York City police earlier said five people are still missing.

At least three children were hurt; two were treated for minor injuries and released, while a third was in critical condition, hospital officials said.

The two buildings on a largely residential block at East 116th Street and Park Avenue housed 15 apartments, a ground-floor church and a piano store.

Residents of seven nearby buildings, with nearly 90 apartments, lost heating and gas services.

NTSB's Sumwalt said the main, low-pressure gas distribution line that runs along Park Avenue was still intact. Service lines carry gas into buildings from that main pipe, he said.

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