Eight bodies pulled from NY blast rubble

Last updated 07:11 15/03/2014

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New York City's fire commissioner says all eight people reported missing have been found and identified at the site of a deadly gas explosion that leveled two buildings.

Salvatore Cassano said no one else was known to be missing. But he stressed at a news conference that the rescue operation will continue in case there are unknown survivors still in the rubble.

Cassano said about 60 to 70 percent of debris had been cleared. He said workers hoped to clear all the debris over the weekend.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said more than 100 people displaced by the blast will be provided temporary and long-term housing.

Among the dead were Andreas Panagopoulos, a 43-year-old Greek-born musician who played guitar and key board and worked from their home for an online site that manages a film and photography directory. His wife, Liseth Perez-Almeida, planned to take his body back to Greece for burial.

A Mexican-born woman, 43-year-old Rosaura Barrios Vazquez was also killed, along with her her US-born daughter, 22-year-old Rosaura Hernandez Barrios, who had been making her way up in the restaurant world. Mexican authorities said their bodies would be flown to Mexico City at the government's expense.

Also killed were Griselde Camacho, 45, a Hunter College security officer, Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist who took part in church-sponsored medical missions to Africa and the Caribbean; George Ameado, 44, a handyman who lived in one of the buildings that collapsed; and Alexis Salas, 22, a restaurant worker.

Police said the body of the eighth person, a woman, was pulled from the rubble a day after the blast.

Investigators were trying to pinpoint the leak and determine whether it had anything to do with the city's aging gas and water mains, some from the 1800s.

Workers planned to spend a full day removing debris at the site and hoped to make it down to the first floor over the weekend, then move on to the basement.

It's meticulous work. About a dozen firefighters picked through charred wood and bits of metal in frigid conditions overnight, seeking human remains or anything that could help the investigation.

Fire and utility officials said that if the buildings were plagued in recent days or weeks by strong gas odours, as some tenants contended, they have no evidence anyone reported it before the blast on Wednesday (Thursday NZT).

The blast erupted about 15 minutes after someone from a neighbouring building reported smelling gas, authorities said. The Con Edison utility said it immediately sent workers to check out the report, but they got there too late.

Robert Sumwalt, a team member from the federal National Transportation Safety Board, said the gas main and distribution pipe under the street had been examined in a crater and were found to be intact, with no obvious punctures or ruptures. They had not been torn from the ground, he said.

However, he said NTSB investigators had been unable to conduct a fuller examination because of the rescue effort underway, and it was unclear whether the leak came from inside or outside the buildings.

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He said there had also been a water main break at the site, but it was unknown if that contributed to the gas explosion or was caused by it. The water main was installed in 1897, according to the city.

The NTSB investigates pipeline accidents in addition to transportation disasters.

Authorities also hoped to reach the basement - still buried under rubble - to examine heating units, meters and other equipment that might hold clues to the blast, fire department Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said.

Aging infrastructure - crumbling bridges, highways, water mains and gas lines - has become a major concern in recent years, especially in older cities in the Northeast, and has been blamed for explosions, floods and other accidents.

- AP

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