The bodies of all eight people reported missing after a deadly gas explosion destroyed two buildings have been recovered, the fire commissioner said Friday, but workers are treating the scene as a rescue operation in case there are unknown survivors in the rubble.
Salvatore Cassano said no one else is known to be unaccounted for but workers will continue to scour the debris from the flattened apartment buildings for victims. More than 60 people were injured by Wednesday morning’s explosion, and more than 100 others were displaced.
Cassano said about 70 percent of the debris had been cleared at the upper Manhattan blast site. But he said the pace was expected to quicken after firefighters removed a hazardous rear wall.
He predicted detectives and fire marshals would gain access to the East Harlem buildings’ basements by midday today to begin the investigation into what caused the explosion.
“Right now, we are in the process of removing the final amount of debris,” Cassano said. “We should be moving much more quickly now.”
The rescue effort continued as federal investigators announced that gas was detected in underground tests of the site in the hours after the explosion, lending support to the hypothesis a gas leak may have been the cause.
National Transportation Safety Board team member Robert Sumwalt said utility Consolidated Edison dug dozens of holes about 18 to 24 inches deep around the blast site and measured gas levels in them soon after the explosion. Gas concentration was up to 20 percent in at least five spots, and normal levels in the city’s soil should be zero, he said.
“Somehow or another, natural gas did work its way into the ground,” he said, adding that pressure testing of nearby pipes was beginning to look for potential leaks.
The NTSB, which investigates pipeline accidents, will conduct an inquiry after police and fire officials locate what might have sparked the blast.