Rescuers working amid cold, gusty winds and billowing smoke pulled four additional bodies overnight from the rubble of two Manhattan apartment buildings, as the death toll rose Thursday to at least seven from a gas leak-triggered explosion that reduced the area to a pile of smashed bricks, splinters and mangled metal.
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Rescuers working amid cold, gusty winds and billowing smoke pulled four additional bodies overnight from the rubble of two Manhattan apartment buildings, as the death toll rose Thursday to at least seven from a gas leak-triggered explosion that reduced the area to a pile of smashed bricks, splinters and mangled metal.
The explosion Wednesday morning in East Harlem injured more than 60 people, with searchers still trying to locate at least five others a day later. Mayor Bill de Blasio told firefighters at the scene Thursday morning, "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. Police guarding the scene wore surgical masks and neighborhood residents covered faces with scarfs amid the thick, acrid air.
Edward Kilduff, the Fire Department's chief of department, said the amount of debris had been reduced to about 1½ floors by Thursday morning. He said rescuers were concerned about the stability of a free-standing wall at the back of the scene.
Firefighters were perched on surrounding rooftops, dousing the still-smoldering debris from above, drawing huge clouds of thick smoke that swirled over Park Avenue and wafted through the neighborhood.
Construction equipment with iron jaws picked up the smoldering debris, first depositing it on the pavement, then hoisting it onto trucks that hauled it away. The debris included structural beams, pieces of windows and residents' belongings.
Workers initially were hampered from fully accessing the building space because of a sinkhole caused by a subsurface water main break. The weather also posed a challenge, with temperatures dropping into the 20s overnight and rain falling.
The fiery blast erupted around 15 minutes after a neighboring resident reported smelling gas, authorities said. The Con Edison utility said it immediately sent workers to check out the report, but they didn't arrive until it was too late.
The explosion shattered windows a block away, rained debris onto elevated commuter railroad tracks close by, cast a plume of smoke over the skyline and sent people running into the streets.
"It felt like an earthquake had rattled my whole building," said Waldemar Infante, a porter who was working in a basement nearby. "There were glass shards everywhere on the ground, and all the stores had their windows blown out."
Hunter College identified one victim as Griselde Camacho, a security officer who worked at the Silberman School of Social Work building. Hunter said Comacho, 45, had worked for the college since 2008.
Also killed was Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist.