Search Continues for 3 Missing After Deadly Harlem Gas Explosion

APTOPIX NYC Explosion

Originally published on NBCNewYork.com the morning of March 14, 2014. Read the latest version of this story here

Using heavy equipment and high-tech search gear, rescue crews continued sifting through smoldering rubble early Friday in hopes of finding three people still missing after a gas explosion leveled two upper Manhattan buildings, killing eight and injuring more than 70 others.

Workers said Thursday night they were about 40 to 50 percent through the wreckage of the two five-story buildings that collapsed Wednesday morning at 116th Street and Park Avenue. Crews brought in a backhoe and a bulldozer for the search and were using sound-detecting devices to check for signs of survivors, while searchers poked telescopic video cameras into small voids in to see if anyone was buried in the rubble.

“We are continuing rescue operations, hoping to find others still alive,” Mayor de Blasio said at City Hall Thursday.

FDNY Chief of Department Edward Kilduff told de Blasio as the mayor visited workers in the rubble that most of the victims have been found about 20 feet into the pile, on the left side. Officials said the two buildings were reduced to a pile about three stories high.

Officials cautioned the firefighting and cleanup process would take time. Jim Long, an FDNY spokesman, said acrid smoke, high winds and cold temperatures complicated efforts Thursday. He called the scene “terrible and traumatic” as firefighters sifted through debris for more potential victims.

The NTSB, which probes pipeline explosions as well as transportation disasters, says the cause of the explosion appears to be a gas leak — but surprisingly, the pipe in question is still intact.

“That’s unlike other pipeline accidents that I’ve been to where the pipe is thrown out of a crater,” said Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB. “This pipe is still in the ground.”

Investigators haven’t been able to get a close look at the low-pressure service line, which delivers natural gas for cooking and heat to the buildings that exploded. NTSB says it will examine Con Edison’s handling of customer complaints, the oversight of Con Edison by federal and state officials, and any evidence of possible third-party damage from digging, among other things.

The Red Cross said nearly 70 people, half of them children, are displaced and are staying at the Salvation Army.

Seven of the eight victims killed in the explosion have been identified as Griselde Camacho, 44, Carmen Tanco, 67, Rosaura Hernandez, 22, Andreas Panagopoulos, 43, Rosaura Barrios Vazquez, 43, Alexis Salas, 22, and George Amadeo, 44. The eighth victim has not been identified.

The more than 70 injured include a teen and a woman who were both critically hurt. The 15-year-old boy’s skin was badly burned, and he had broken bones and internal injuries, doctors said. The woman, who was pulled from the debris, is being treated for critical neck and back injuries.

The Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring air quality in the area. As high winds kicked up more debris and smoke Thursday, the mayor said the Health Department is recommending residents in the immediate area limit time outside and keep their windows closed.

The Department of Education said 40 students with asthma returned home Thursday morning from a school located about two blocks away. The school was working with families and handling each student on a case-by-case basis.