Death toll reaches eight in East Harlem explosion
National Transportation Safety Board to investigate whether gas leak triggered deadly blast
An eighth body was found in the wreckage of two buildings destroyed in an explosion in East Harlem Wednesday morning. The victim has yet to be identified. The Fire Department and other crews have searched through about half the debris from the buildings that collapsed, 1644 Park Avenue and 1646 Park Avenue. Three people who lived in the building are still unaccounted for, according to published reports.
At least 54 people were also injured in the explosion. Some remain in critical condition.
Once the site is determined to be safe, the National Transportation Safety Board plans to investigate. The NTSB is operating under “the assumption” that a natural gas leak triggered the blast, officials told Capital New York. The NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt told the New York Times the main gas pipe to the buildings is still intact, unlike other pipeline accidents in which the pipe was “thrown out of a crater.”
Residents of the neighborhood reportedly said they smelled gas the night before disaster struck.
Furthermore, gas supplier Con Edison received a call about a gas leak on the street just prior to the explosion.
According to the New York Daily News, ConEd had inspected the main gas line in the area twice: once in 2004 due to a leak, and once to replace 69 feet of the pipe when a customer had a new water line installed. But a ConEd van that randomly checks neighborhoods for gas leaks took a reading in the area on Feb. 28, and found no problems, the paper reported.
Two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents witnessed the explosion, telling officials that they were nearby when 1644 Park Avenue — which housed the Spanish Christian Church — collapsed pancake-style, according to the the Times. [Gothamist] and [NY Daily News] and [CapitalNewYork] and [NYT] — Angela Hunt