UK & World News

  • 14 March 2014, 10:12

Harlem Gas Blast: More Bodies Found In Rubble

Rescuers working amid cold, gusty winds and billowing smoke have pulled five more bodies from the rubble of two New York City apartment buildings.

Eight people have now been confirmed dead and more than 60 injured after a gas-triggered explosion toppled the buildings in East Harlem.

Rescue crews continue to sift through smashed bricks, splintered wood and mangled metal for other potential victims.

WABC in New York reported that at least one building tenant was unaccounted for.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was "hoping to find others still alive".

Earlier, he told firefighters at the scene: "I can only imagine knowing that at any moment you might find a body, how difficult that is."

Crews used generator-powered floodlights and thermal imaging cameras to identify heat spots - bodies or pockets of fire - at the site on Park Avenue and 116th Street.

The fiery blast erupted on Wednesday morning, about 15 minutes after a neighbouring resident reported smelling gas, authorities said.

The local utility supplier Con Edison said it immediately dispatched workers to the site, but they arrived too late.

A tenant in one of the destroyed buildings, Ruben Borrero, said residents had complained to the landlord about smelling gas as recently as Tuesday.

A few weeks ago, Mr Borrero said, city fire officials were called about the odour, which he said was so bad that a tenant on the top floor broke open the door to the roof for ventilation.

"It was unbearable," said Mr Borrero. "You walk in the front door and you want to turn around and walk directly out."

The Fire Department said a check of its records found no instances in the past month in which tenants of the two buildings reported gas odours or leaks.

Con Edison CEO John McAvoy said the explosion might have been prevented if more people had called earlier about suspected gas.

In this case, Mr McAvoy said, "it was categorised as a low priority."

He said the utility received two reports in three years - in 2013 and 2011 - of gas leaks at the two buildings levelled in the explosion.

Among those confirmed dead, New York's Hunter College identified one victim as Griselde Camacho, a security officer who worked at school.

Also killed was Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist.

Mexican officials in Puebla identified two other victims as Rosaura Barrios Vazquez, 43, and 22-year-old Rosaura Hernandez Barrios.