Three people have been confirmed dead after an explosion in
East Harlem levelled two buildings, and the search continues
for nine occupants who are unaccounted for, city officials
Word of an additional death came shortly after the National
Transportation Safety Board said investigators will focus on
Con Edison's response to the gas leak that caused the blast.
"We want to find out not only what happened, but we want to
find out why it happened ... to make sure something like this
never happens again," said NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt,
shortly after a team of investigators arrived at the scene on
Wednesday evening (local time).
Those investigators will look at any possible issues with the
distribution pipeline that delivers natural gas to the
five-story buildings and how Con Edison handled the
situation, Sumwalt said.
"We will be looking at Con Edison ... their integrity
management system, seeing how they handled complaints ...
oversight of Con Edison by federal and state officials,"
Investigators will look at Con Edison's call log and at any
evidence of third-party damage by digging, he said.
Con Edison said the utility is "going to be cooperating with
The explosion injured dozens, hurling debris onto the
elevated Metro-North tracks along Park Avenue, shattering
windows in the neighborhood and sending people running into
the streets as a plume of smoke rose above the skyline.
Con Edison workers were on their way to address the leak, but
"the explosion occurred before that team could arrive," Mayor
Bill de Blasio said.
"This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no
indication in time to save people," the mayor said. "From
what we know now, the only indication of danger came about 15
minutes earlier, when a gas leak was reported to Con Edison."
Among the victims, two have what are considered
critical/serious, life-threatening injuries; five have
serious, but not life-threatening, injuries; and 20 have
minor injuries, the FDNY said.
The FDNY said its count reflected the number of victims the
department treated. City hospitals, meanwhile, reported
treating 61 patients, some of whom were walk-ins. Most had
minor injuries. Two FBI agents were among the injured,
although those injuries were not life-threatening, according
to the FBI.
About 250 members of the FDNY were conducting a "thorough
search" of the rubble, de Blasio said, adding that he
expected it to be "a long operation." Those attempting to
reach family or loved ones among the nine missing are urged
to call 311, the mayor's office said.
Michael Parrella, a FDNY spokesman, said the bulk of the fire
that destroyed the buildings at 1644 and 1646 Park Ave. had
been extinguished by Wednesday evening and firefighters were
tackling hot spots among the debris. Parrella said
firefighters also were simultaneously searching the debris.
Some parts of the debris pile were not accessible "due to a
sinkhole that has developed in front of the buildings due to
a subsurface water main break, likely closed by the
explosion," Parrella said.
Among those missing were Andreas Panagopoulos. There has been
no sign of Panagopoulos at three hospitals, leaving his
family with the dreadful feeling that he might be buried in
"We don't know anything," Tulio Gomez, his brother-in-law,
said as he waited Wednesday afternoon at a makeshift command
center a block from the scene.
Panagopoulos, 42, last spoke to his wife, Lisbeth Perez, when
she called him at 8:30 a.m., about 45 minutes before the
"They talked in the morning, and he went back to sleep," said
Gomez, 43, of Queens.
He said his brother-in-law runs his advertising company from
home, a second-floor apartment at 1646 Park Ave.
"He usually doesn't leave," Gomez said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it "has
launched a go-team" to investigate the explosion.
A report of a gas odor from a resident at 1652 Park Ave. came
at 9:13 a.m., Con Edison said in a tweet. Con Edison crews
were dispatched at 9:15 a.m. "and arrived just after
explosion," the utility said in the tweet.
The first call reporting the explosion to 911 was at 9:31
a.m. and the first firefighting unit was on the scene at 9:33
a.m., said FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano.
Officials said there were six residential units in one
building and nine in the other that were destroyed by the