ABOVE PHOTO: A pile of debris remains at the site of a building explosion in the East Village neighborhood of New York, Friday, March 27, 2015. Nineteen people were injured, four critically, after the powerful blast and fire sent flames soaring and debris flying Thursday afternoon. Preliminary evidence suggested that a gas explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building was to blame. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Nancy Borowick, Pool)
By Meghan Barr
NEW YORK — Two bodies were found Sunday amid rubble from the Manhattan apartment building collapse three days earlier and authorities said everyone was accounted for since the apparent gas explosion that caused a massive fire and altogether leveled three buildings and damaged a fourth.
Authorities had been looking for signs of two missing men since Thursday’s explosion, in which 22 people were injured, including four critically. Officials suspect someone may have improperly tapped a gas line serving one of the buildings.
During their search, authorities said they believed the missing men had been inside a ground floor sushi restaurant at the time of the explosion: 26-year-old Moises Lucon, who worked at the restaurant, and 23-year-old Nicholas Figueroa, a bowling alley worker who had been there on a date.
“We continue to search although there are no other missing persons,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said after the two bodies were pulled from the wreckage Sunday afternoon. “So the feeling is everyone who had been reported missing has now been found.”
He said the families of the two men had been notified.
“We have removed over 1,000 cubic yards of debris, and we’re not finished yet so we will remain on the scene a few more days to accomplish that task,” Nigro said.
The names of the two dead were not immediately released; a medical examiner was to positively identify them. A spokesman for the Figueroa family confirmed to reporters at the city Medical Examiner’s office that Figueroa’s body was pulled from the wreckage.
“It’s very hard. The family is distraught. They are going home now to prepare the funeral arrangements,” Awilda Cordero told the Daily News.
Earlier Sunday, several members of Figueroa’s family visited the blast site, holding flowers and crying.
Figueroa’s brother, Neal, leaned over barricades and shouted pleas to emergency workers: “He’s a strong man, I know he’s in there! Don’t give up, please find my brother.”
Authorities, however, acknowledged the chances of finding anyone alive were slim.
During the day, workers raked through piles of loose brick and wood; rescue workers sent search dogs over debris where three apartment buildings once stood.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said after the explosion that someone may have improperly tapped a gas line. Consolidated Edison said utility workers had discovered in August that the gas line to the restaurant had been illegally tapped. The discovery led Con Edison to shut down gas service to the building for about 10 days while the building owner made repairs. Gas service was restored after the utility deemed it safe, the utility said.
Inspectors from Con Ed visited that building about an hour before Thursday’s explosion and determined work to upgrade gas service didn’t pass inspection, locking the line to ensure it wouldn’t be used and then leaving, officials said. The work underway was to put in a bigger line to serve the entire building, Con Ed President Craig Ivey said.
Fifteen minutes later, the sushi restaurant’s owner smelled gas and called the landlord, who called the general contractor, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. Nobody called 911 or Con Ed.
The contractor, Dilber Kukic, and the owner’s son went into the basement and opened a door, and then the explosion happened, burning their faces, Boyce said.
Kukic — who’s facing unrelated charges of bribing an undercover investigator posing as a housing inspector — declined through his lawyer to comment on the circumstances surrounding the explosion. City records show Kukic got a permit last June for plumbing, flooring, removing partition walls and other work at the building.
The explosion echoed through the city’s arts community, destroying “Sopranos” actress Drea de Matteo’s apartment — she posted photos on Instagram of “a hole where my NYC home of the last 22 years once stood” — and spurring the cancellation of five performances of the propulsive show “Stomp,” which is at a theater near the site.
The blast happened a little over a year after a gas explosion in a building in East Harlem killed eight people and injured about 50. A gas leak was reported shortly before that blast.
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