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District Attorney Opens Criminal Investigation Into Exploded New York Building

Two people died in the blast and fire. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances.

Originally posted on
Updated on

What We Know So Far

  • A building exploded and "totally collapsed" in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan on March 26, the FDNY said.
  • Two people died. Thier bodies were pulled from the rubble three days later.
  • Mayor DeBlasio said preliminary evidence indicates a gas leak may be to blame for fire, building collapse.
  • The Manhattan District Attorney has opened a criminal investigation.

Updates

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Four patients who went to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition after the incident – three of them now, thank God, have been released. The last patient at Bellevue is in good condition. So, we had four folks who were originally in critical condition. We were very worried about each and every one of them. But thank God – three out – one more still in the hospital, but doing well. The fire is now fully extinguished – a recovery effort – the cleanup effort, continuing. Obviously, an investigation underway now involving not only our fire marshals and NYPD detectives, but obviously involving the district attorney's office as well at this point.
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A second body has now been recovered from the rubble, an NYPD spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Both bodies will no undergo testing to determine their identity, while workers continue to search the site for any further victims.

The @fdny is working diligently to clear the debris after the #EastVillage explosion.

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Search and rescue teams scouring the wreckage of the East Village buildings destroyed in an explosion and fire last week discovered a body on Sunday, a NYPD spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Prior to the blast, Figueroa had been on a lunch date at the Sushi Park restaurant, were Lucon worked as a busboy.

The NYPD spokesperson said the body has not yet been identified.

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An NYPD spokesperson confirmed Saturday morning that emergency workers are still looking for the two missing men.

Moises Lucon worked at Sushi Park and Nicholas Figueroa dined at the restaurant shortly before the crash. Family members of both men were out on the streets looking for any traces.

"We have just been walking down the streets, one by one," Zacarias Lucon told the New York Daily News. "We are just so exhausted and upset. I don't know what happened to him."

According to the Daily News, Office of Emergency Management chief Joseph Esposito said he highly doubts the two men are likely to be found alive.

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Speaking at a news conference Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the building explosion may have been caused by improper plumbing work.

"There's a possibility a gas pipe was accessed improperly," de Blasio said.

The mayor cautioned that the city will not issue a final determination of what happened until its investigators are able to reach the basement of the building where the explosion originated, a process that could take up to a week. But de Blasio did offer a preliminary narrative of the events leading to the fire.

Shortly before the explosion, the mayor said, inspectors with ConEd visited 121 Second Avenue for a routine review of earlier plumbing work. There, the inspectors found two people — Bronx contractor Dilber Kukic and one of his employees — doing plumbing work in the basement.

The ConEd inspectors found the work "deficient," the mayor said, and locked the building's gas main. (Kukic does not appear to have had a permit for the work.)

Around the same time, de Blasio said, the owner of Sushi Park restaurant, located at the site of the explosion, called the building's landlord to inform him of a gas smell in the building. The restauranteur, however, did not call 911 or evacuate the premises.

Fifteen minutes after the ConEd inspectors left, the building exploded, starting a fire that eventually spread to four other structures, causing three of them to collapse.

Speaking alongside the mayor on Friday, New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said firefighters continue to fight "smoldering" fires at the scene.

"The fire will not extend any further," Nigro said. "We have people at the scene to prevent that."

De Blasio said that the injury toll had increased to 22 people, four of whom were in critical condition. Additionally, two people known to have been in the buildings at the time were still missing.

A third person was unaccounted for, but there was no reason to believe he or she had been present during the explosion.

New York police, fire, and building officials are conducting investigations into possible wrongdoing.

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The building where the fire originated was undergoing renovations without a permit, public records show.

The East Village building that exploded on Thursday was undergoing gas and plumbing renovations without a permit, according to public records.

Thursday's explosion, which injured at least 19 and left two people missing, appears to have originated from a gas leak at the corner of Second Avenue and 7th Street, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference Thursday.

"The initial impact appears to have been caused by plumping and gas work that was occurring inside 121 2nd Avenue," the mayor said. "Con Ed inspectors arrived at the site earlier for a separate reason entirely, found the work to be unacceptable, gave instructions as to what changes were needed – and that was an hour or more before the explosion."

The New York City Department of Buildings requires all major renovations to request a permit to ensure the safety of workers and residents. As of Friday, the last permit authorizing work at 121 Second Avenue dates from August 2014. The permit, issued to Doric Consultants Inc, allowed for mechanical and plumbing work to be done on all five floors of the century-old tenement.

Sowkon Im, a project manager for Doric Consultants, told BuzzFeed News that his company had only done the engineering work in the building and had not actually been involved in the construction.

"We only worked in the residential portion of the building," Im said. "Yesterday's incident was in the commercial part. I don't know who did the work, but it wasn't my company. Yesterday's work must have been done without a permit, because mine is the latest permit, and I singed off the project on September 2014."

A Department of Building's spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the project for which Doric Consultants had been granted a permit was finished in September 2014, and that no further permits had been issued for 121 Second Avenue.

"If there had been a permit, it would be on our website," the spokesperson said, adding that he could not give any further details because the investigation is still ongoing.

Sushi Park, Inc, the restaurant in the commercial section of the building registered owner of at least part of the lot, could not immediately be reached for commen

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FDNY Commissioner briefs Mayor Bill de Blasio at the scene of the fire.

U/D Manhattan: FDNY Commissioner & Chief & @BilldeBlasio visiting the explosion site Press conference soon.

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There are six to eight people unaccounted for in the East Village explosion, but emergency workers are particularly concerned about two, according to a city official.

Two of the missing people have a "direct connection" to the site at the time of the explosion, the official said.

The other four to six are "tangentially" related to the site – there's no evidence they were near the building at the time of the blast, the official said. For example, a friend may have reported one of those people missing after not hearing from him or her.

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The Wall Street Journal person identified a second missing person as Moises Lucon, who worked at Sushi Park.

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Surveillance video shows the moment of the explosion. The blast is at the 15 second mark.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com
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The scene of the explosion on Friday morning:

Morning in the #EastVillage. #FDNY units continue to operate on-scene.

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Nicholas Figueroa is missing after dining at the sushi restaurant located on the ground floor of the building that exploded in East Village.

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Figueroa and a co-worker had lunch at Sushi Park shortly before the explosion. His family told The New York Times they haven't heard from him since.

Figueroa's bank statements show he used his debit card to pay at the sushi restaurant just before the explosion. Family members are checking nearby hospitals, police departments and the Red Cross center in East Village for traces of the 23-year-old man. The person Figueroa was dining with was taken to Bellevue Hospital.

"We're just praying that they find him," Figueroa's brother, Tyler, told the Times.

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A New York Fire Department spokesperson confirmed that six people are unaccounted for following Thursday's East Village fire and building collapse.

Eleven people remain hospitalized, two in critical condition.

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A New York Fire Department video posted to YouTube Thursday showed one of the buildings collapsing during the fire.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com
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The tally of people injured by the explosion and fire increased to 19 Thursday evening, including four who remained in critical condition.

New York firefighter Ed Long told BuzzFeed News that among those injured in the blast and ensuing destruction, 14 were civilians. Four of the civilians were in critical condition Thursday. Seven others had been taken to area hospitals with non-life threatening injuries. Three people were treated at the scene and released.

Also injured were five fire department members, Long said, four of whom were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. A medical responder was treated at the scene.

Authorities were "still tallying" the injured late into Thursday night, Long said.

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BuzzFeed News reporter Mary Ann Georgantopoulos captures the scene in the streets of the East Village.

Facebook: BuzzFeedNews
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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement on the fire.

"My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been impacted by the explosion in Lower Manhattan today. The Department of Public Service is on-site monitoring Con Edison's response to this incident and will conduct a full investigation to determine the cause of today's explosion," the governor said.

"On behalf of all New Yorkers, I thank the hundreds of first responders who put the safety of others before their own. We will continue to monitor this tragedy and do whatever is needed to support the ongoing response and recovery in the days ahead."

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Mayor Bill de Blasio: Private contractors were doing work on the building's gas system at the time of the explosion.

Speaking at a press conference, Bill de Blasio said that the building was undergoing work on its gas system.

"To the best of our understanding, there were only private companies doing work at the building," de Blasio said.

But hours before the explosion, ConEd had sent a team of inspectors to supervise the work of the private contractors, company president John McAvoy said at the conference. The ConEd inspectors found the work unsatisfactory.

The private contractors did not make any calls to 9/11 or ConEd, as they should have done the moment they detected a leak, de Blasio said.

Four buildings were affected by the explosion: 119, 121, 123 and 125 2nd Avenue. "The actual explosion occurred in 121, caused it to partially collapse, and 123 collapsed as well, " de Blasio said.

"Our thoughts and our prayers are with every one of them and their families," he said. "And of course, we are praying that no other individuals are found injured, and that there are no fatalities, but that is an ongoing effort that FDNY and all other first responders are involved in."

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Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference that the explosion appeared to be related to a gas leak.

"Preliminary evidence suggests a gas related explosion. That investigation is ongoing." - Mayor @BilldeBlasio.

"At this moment we know of 12 individuals who have been injured, three in critical condition." - Mayor @BilldeBlasio.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families." - Mayor @BilldeBlasio. Watch: http://t.co/10woidEfEd.

View this video on YouTube

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Antonia Stoyanovich who lives on 7th told me it felt like an earthquake and her building shook. "You felt it in the buildings structure."

Stoyanovich said the fire started in a sushi restaurant.

Several residents returning from work, including Christopher Mitchell, can't get back to their apartments.

Elise Ford who works at Blackstones salon said she immediately knew it was a gas explosion from sound and smell

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ConEd has sent crews to investigate the scene of the explosion, but cannot confirm whether a gas leak played a role in the fire, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

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A reporter captured the moment of the collapse on video.

The building collapse as it happened on 2nd avenue

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A filmmaker who took video of the fire said the tried to help a worker who was stuck in the basement of the building.

Blake Farber, a filmmaker who lives in the neighborhood, was walking past the building earlier this afternoon when he noticed a strong smell of gas.

"I walked literarily 15 seconds past the building and saw two workers walking out of the residential part of the building and entering the sushi bar," Farber told BuzzFeed News over the phone.

"I went down the street and suddenly saw a huge explosion. I ran over to the scene. There was a worker downstairs, at the basement entrance. He was trying to come out. He wasn't bleeding, but his face was all powdery."

"I tried to get him out but people were telling me that I should get away because the building was going to blow up."

After the explosion, Farber said, he saw people with bloodied faces.

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ConEd has shut down gas supply to the East Village as a precaution, Reuters reported.

A ConEd spokesperson did not immediately answer BuzzFeed New's questions on whether the explosion was due to a gas leak.

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Video from a witness who said he smelled gas before the explosion.

Blake Farber/Facebook: video.php
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Second Avenue was closed across the entire East Village, the NYPD said.

Due to a fire at 121 2nd Ave, 2nd Ave has been closed between 14th Street & Houston St. Please use alternate route.

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More aerial photos shared by @NYPDSpecialops show the fire in East Village, NYC:

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BuzzFeed News's Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is at the scene of the explosion.

Residential building partially collapsed. 3 young men that live there told me but refused to comment further.

Several NYU dorms in the area. Dozens of students on streets.

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This video, posted to YouTube, appears to be shot by someone next door to the burning building.

View this video on YouTube

James Lesni/youtube.com

Video of someone being helped down a fire escape after the explosion.

Major explosion on 2nd ave and 7th street. New Yorkers being awesome and helping this young lady get down!

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At least 12 people were injured during the explosion, three of them critically, an FDNY spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

"They were taken to area hospitals, including Bellevue," the spokesperson said.

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NYPD Special Ops tweeted an aerial view of the scene:

#BREAKING: Aerial view of building collapse @NYPD9Pct. Numerous rescue units on scene #SOD #ESU #K9 #Aviation #FD

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All firefighters at the scene have been accounted for, the FDNY told BuzzFeed News.

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A building near the site of the explosion has "totally collapsed," an FDNY spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

It was not immediately clear whether the building that collapsed was the origin of the fire.

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A building in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan exploded Thursday, injuring an unknown number of people, the Fire Department of New York said.

Explosion shreds East Village restaurant: An explosion rocked the East Village Thursday… http://t.co/fSuk18og6F

MAN 7-ALARM 125 2 AVE, MIXED OCCUPANCY MAJOR BUILDING COLLAPSE,

The building was located at 121 2nd Avenue, near the intersection with St. Mark's place, a busy commercial strip full of restaurants and bars.

Massive explosion rips through East Village building via @Dnainfo http://t.co/nMaF7tojr7

The exact number of injured and their condition was unknown, an FDNY spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Massive explosion rocks New York's East Village; injuries unknown (Pic: @Jamie_S_Kennedy) http://t.co/MwQgLBkuII

2nd and 3rd Avenues up until 12th street being evacuated.