NEW YORK - After an eighth body was extricated from the rubble of two buildings in East Harlem that were leveled by an explosion, fire and safety officials began narrowing in yesterday on what might have caused the blast.
NEW YORK — After an eighth body was extricated from the rubble of two buildings in East Harlem that were leveled by an explosion, fire and safety officials began narrowing in yesterday on what might have caused the blast.
With all of the missing now accounted for, investigators revealed that combustible levels of natural gas had been detected underground near the site on Park Avenue a few hours after Wednesday morning’s explosion.
Crews from Consolidated Edison drilled 50 holes in the ground and, in five of them, found air containing five to 20 percent methane, said Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board.
“That’s a pretty good concentration of natural gas,” said Sumwalt, whose agency is investigating the explosion, which also injured about 60 people. “It further leads to our hypothesis that this may well have been a natural-gas leak."
Normally, no methane would be found in the soil of New York City, he said.
The source of any leak, however, remains unknown. Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said at a news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio that emergency personnel are expected to reach the basement of one of the buildings and clear it of water and other debris by this afternoon, enabling inspections of the gas pipes.
Sumwalt said the next step for Con Edison would be to conduct “pressure tests” in the gas pipes under the streets. He said the safety board will continue collecting documents and data and interviewing witnesses and Con Ed employees into next week.
Recovery crews will continue to look for bodies, using sonar equipment to search voids and sifting through the tangle of twisted metal and concrete still at the site, Cassano said.
As for the dozens of families who were displaced by the explosion, city officials announced efforts to place them into more-stable housing. De Blasio said the most immediate challenge is finding shelter for at least 55 families who either lived in the buildings or have not been able to return to neighboring buildings because the heat and power were cut off.