FDNY Firefighter Describes Actions at Manhattan Explosion

Bodies Recovered from Manhattan Explosion

Two bodies recovered from rubble of East Village collapse
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, background center, meets with firefighters at the site of a building explosion in the East Village neighborhood of New York, Friday, March 27, 2015. Nineteen people were injured, four critically, after the powerful blast and fire sent flames soaring and debris flying Thursday afternoon. Preliminary evidence suggested that a gas explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building was to blame. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Nancy Borowick, Pool)
Published Monday, March 30, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — After two bodies were pulled from the rubble of a Manhattan apartment building collapse, authorities shifted their focus to what caused the massive explosion and fire and the possibility that someone may have improperly tapped a gas line serving one of the buildings.

"There's reason to believe so far that there may have been inappropriate tampering with the gas lines within the building, but until we get full evidence we can't conclude that," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said crews should reach the cellar level where the explosion took place by Monday.

"When we reach the level of the gas piping, the way the debris is removed will change so that those who will investigate the mechanics of what happened will have access to that without it being torn apart," Nigro said.

The names of the two men found Sunday were not immediately released. Authorities believe they are the two men reported missing after Thursday's explosion and fire that leveled three buildings and injured 22 people, including four critically. They were identified as Moises Lucon, 26, who worked inside a ground floor sushi restaurant, and Nicholas Figueroa, 23, a bowling alley worker who had been there on a date.

A spokesman for the Figueroa family confirmed to reporters at the city Medical Examiner's office on Sunday that Figueroa's body was pulled from the wreckage.

In August, utility workers had discovered that the gas line to the restaurant had been illegally tapped, according to Consolidated Edison. The discovery led Con Edison to shut down gas service to the building for about 10 days while the building owner made repairs. Gas service was restored after the utility deemed it safe, the utility said.

Inspectors from Con Ed visited that building about an hour before Thursday's explosion and determined work to upgrade gas service didn't pass inspection, locking the line to ensure it wouldn't be used and then leaving, officials said. The work underway was to put in a bigger line to serve the entire building, Con Ed President Craig Ivey said.

Fifteen minutes later, the sushi restaurant's owner smelled gas and called the landlord, who called the general contractor, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. No one called 911 or Con Ed.

The contractor, Dilber Kukic, and the owner's son went into the basement and opened a door, and then the explosion happened, burning their faces, Boyce said.

Kukic — who's facing unrelated charges of bribing an undercover investigator posing as a housing inspector — declined through his lawyer to comment on the circumstances surrounding the explosion. City records show Kukic got a permit last June for plumbing, flooring, removing partition walls and other work at the building.

"The focus of the investigation is not on infrastructure ... it's focusing on the work that was being done in the basement of those locations, that's what we're focusing right now," said Joseph Esposito, commissioner of the city's Office of Emergency Management.

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  • Hazardous Situation Found Months Prior to Manhattan Explosion

    Odor of gas reported in August uncovered multiple leaks from a tapped line
    A firefighter on a ladder truck directs water onto the site of an explosion and fire in the East Village neighborhood of New York, Friday, March 27, 2015. Authorities say two people are unaccounted for following an apparent gas explosion that leveled three buildings. Preliminary evidence suggested a gas explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building was to blame. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
    Published Sunday, March 29, 2015

    NEW YORK (AP) — More than seven months before an explosion and fire leveled three apartment buildings in Manhattan's East Village, utility workers discovered that the gas line to a restaurant in one of them had been illegally tapped, creating a hazardous situation, according to the company.

    Explosion and Collapse in Manhattan’s East Village

    On Aug. 6, a meter reader at the restaurant detected the smell of gas and reported it, said Consolidated Edison spokesman Allan Drury. A gas crew dispatched to the site found multiple leaks in a gas line that had been tapped, Drury said, adding that the restaurant was the only customer in the building authorized to receive gas.

    The discovery led Con Edison to shut down gas service to the building for about 10 days while the building owner made repairs. Gas service was restored after the utility deemed it safe, Drury said.

    City officials suspect that leaking natural gas was the source of Thursday's explosion and fire, which sparked a raging blaze that took hundreds of firefighters to quell. De Blasio visited a firehouse Saturday to thank some of them.

    Meanwhile, emergency workers painstakingly looked for signs of two missing people, scooping through piles of loose brick, wood and debris with their hands and using dogs to search the rubble. Authorities acknowledged the chances of finding either person alive were slim.

    Officials estimated it could take a week of 24-hour-a-day work to sift through the heap. "It's going to be slow and arduous," Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

    Detectives issued posters seeking information on the whereabouts of the men believed to have been in the sushi restaurant on the ground floor of one of the collapsed buildings: 26-year-old Moises Lucon, who worked at the restaurant, and 23-year-old Nicholas Figueroa, a bowling alley worker who had been there on a date.

    Their families showed photos of their loved ones and asked for help.

    "We have just been walking down the streets, one by one," brother Zacarias Lucon told the Daily News of New York. "We are just so exhausted and upset."

    Figueroa's relatives said they were holding out hope.

    "My brother is strong," Neal Figueroa told reporters. "Even if he is still in the rubble, I know he would still be in a predicament to get himself out, and so I'm just praying for that."

    But hope was dimming. When asked about whether anyone would have survived, city Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito said: "I would doubt that very seriously."

    As some of the several evacuated buildings near the explosion site were declared safe for residents to return, Micha Gerland stood at a police barricade and surveyed the remains of his apartment.

    "I still don't believe it," said Gerland, 37, who escaped with nothing but his wallet, phone, keys and the clothes he was wearing. "Who thinks that something like that happens?"

    Inspectors from Con Ed had visited that building about an hour before the explosion and determined work to upgrade gas service didn't pass inspection, locking the line to ensure it wouldn't be used and then leaving, officials said.

    Manhattan Explosion: Inspectors Find Faulty Work

    Fifteen minutes later, the sushi restaurant's owner smelled gas and called the landlord, who called the general contractor, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. Nobody called 911 or Con Ed.

    The contractor, Dilber Kukic, and the owner's son went into the basement and opened a door, and then the explosion happened, burning their faces, Boyce said. Kukic, who has pleaded not guilty to an unrelated charge of bribing a housing inspector, declined through his lawyer to comment on the circumstances surrounding the explosion.

    The building had an existing gas line intended to serve the sushi restaurant; the work underway was to put in a bigger line to serve the entire building, Con Ed President Craig Ivey said.

    The landlord didn't respond to calls and emails Friday and Saturday from The Associated Press seeking comment.

    ___

    Associated Press Radio Correspondent Julie Walker contributed to this report.

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    Off-Duty Firefighter Scales Fire Escape at Manhattan Blast

    Manhattan Explosion: Inspectors Find Faulty Work

    Utility inspectors found faulty work in East Village building prior to blast
    New York City firefighters work the scene of a large fire and a partial building collapse in the East Village neighborhood of New York on Thursday, March 26, 2015. Orange flames and black smoke are billowing from the facade and roof of the building near several New York University buildings. (AP Photo/Suzanne Mitchell)
    Published Friday, March 27, 2015

    NEW YORK (AP) — An hour before an apparent gas explosion sent flames soaring and debris flying at a Manhattan apartment building, injuring 19 people, utility company inspectors decided the work being done there was faulty.

    The powerful blast on Thursday in the East Village caused the collapse of three buildings and fire damage to a fourth, the fire department said. It left four people in critical condition, more than a dozen others injured and one family searching for a loved one.

    Explosion and Collapse in Manhattan’s East Village

    Scroll down for audio from seven-alarm fire, Box 0436

    Firefighters worked through the night to put out pockets of fire, pouring large volumes of water over the rubble, a fire department spokesman said Friday morning as a steady rain fell.

    He said when a building collapses it takes much longer — even days — to put out all the fire.

    About 200 firefighters and medical staff remained on the scene.

    "Currently we're in the extinguishing phase, making sure there are no further fires and extinguishing the fires that are there, he said.

    The blast caused three five-story buildings to collapse within a few hours of each other, the spokesman said. A fourth, seven-story building, suffered extensive fire damage.



    Mayor Bill de Blasio said preliminary evidence suggested a gas explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building that collapsed was to blame. A plumber was doing work connected to a gas service upgrade, and inspectors for utility company Con Edison had been there, company President Craig Ivey said. But the work failed the inspection, partly because a space for the new meters wasn't big enough, Con Ed said.

    The state Department of Public Service was monitoring Con Ed's response.

    Restaurant diners ran out of their shoes and bystanders helped one another to escape the midafternoon blast, which damaged four buildings as flames shot into the air, witnesses said. Passers-by were hit by debris and flying glass, and bloodied victims were aided as they sat on sidewalks and lay on the ground, they said.

    Adil Choudhury, who lives a block away, ran outside when he heard "a huge boom."

    "The flames were coming out from the roof," he said. "The fire was coming out of every window."

    The flames shot as high as 50 feet into the air, witness Paul Schoengold said.



    De Blasio said it didn't appear that anyone was missing, but late Thursday Tyler Figueroa, 19, of Manhattan said his 23-year-old brother Nicholas had disappeared after going on a date at an East Village sushi restaurant that was leveled by the explosion.

    Figueroa said the couple was paying for their meal when the blast occurred, and that his date, who is in the hospital, remembers only stumbling outside before losing consciousness.

    "I just pray my brother shows up," he said. "We just hope my brother comes back."

    Police said early Friday they have no reports of a missing person.

    The explosion and fire happened a little over a year after a gas explosion in a building in East Harlem killed eight people and injured about 50. A National Transportation Safety Board report released last week said a leak reported just before the deadly blast may have come from a 3-year-old section of plastic pipe rather than a 127-year-old cast-iron segment that came under scrutiny in the immediate aftermath.

    De Blasio noted no one had reported a gas leak before Thursday's blast. Con Edison said it had surveyed the gas mains on the block Wednesday and found no leaks.

    Bystander Blake Farber, who lives around the corner, said he'd been walking by the building and smelled gas seconds before the big blast.

    Firefighters continued pouring water on the buildings, in an area of old tenement buildings that are home to students and longtime residents near New York University and Washington Square Park.

    "We are praying that no other individuals are injured and that there are no fatalities," de Blasio said.

    "It was terrifying — absolutely terrifying," said Bruce Finley, a visitor from San Antonio, Texas, who had just taken a photo of his food at a restaurant known for its French fries when he felt the explosion next door. "It just happened out of the blue. ... We were shaking even an hour, hour and a half later."

    The explosion was so forceful it blew the door off a cafe across an avenue and left piles of rubble on the sidewalk. Finley said his son helped to lift debris off a man so he could escape the restaurant where they had been eating.

    ___

    Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz, Colleen Long, Jonathan Lemire, Mike Balsamo, Kiley Armstrong and Stephanie Siek contributed to this report.

    Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    10-60 Box 0436, Part 1

    10-60 Box 0436, Part 2

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    Explosion and Collapse in Manhattan’s East Village

    Building collapses amid flames and smoke injuring several people
    New York City firefighters work at the scene of a large fire and a partial building collapse in the East Village neighborhood of New York on Thursday, March 26, 2015, in New York, after an apartment building on fire near New York University collapsed on Thursday. Two nearby buildings began burning and firefighters said at least 12 people were hurt, three critically, and other people were being evaluated at the scene. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
    Published Thursday, March 26, 2015

    NEW YORK (AP) — An apartment building collapsed in a fiery burst of rubble on Thursday and flames spread to nearby buildings in what officials said appeared to be a gas-related explosion, injuring at least a dozen people and scattering debris across surrounding streets in the heart of Manhattan's trendy East Village.

    Mayor Bill de Blasio said the blast appeared to have been caused by plumbing and gas work inside one building. Inspectors from utility Con Edison had been there to check on a planned gas meter installation about an hour before the fire, but they decided the building wasn't ready for gas to be introduced, company President Craig Ivey said.

    Orange flames billowed and smoke could be seen and smelled for miles after the blaze, in an area of old tenement buildings that are home to students and longtime residents in an area near New York University and Washington Square Park.

    About 250 firefighters converged to fight the flames, and the fire department's commissioner said a second building was "in danger of possible collapse" and four buildings were affected in all.

    Firefighters said at least 12 people were hurt, three critically, some with burns to their airways. De Blasio said it didn't appear that anyone was missing.

    "We are praying that no other individuals are injured and that there are no fatalities," he said.

    The fire happened a little over a year after a gas explosion in a building in East Harlem killed eight people and injured about 50. De Blasio noted that no one had reported a gas leak to authorities before Thursday's blast.

     



    The area was evacuated, and the city's health department advised residents to keep their windows closed because of the smoke.

    Adil Choudhury, who lives a block away, ran outside when he heard "a huge boom."

    "Already there was smoke everywhere" when he saw the building, he said. "The flames were coming out from the roof. The fire was coming out of every window."

    Items from a ground-floor sushi restaurant were blown into a street, and the explosion was so forceful that it blew the door off a cafe across the avenue. Rubble, glass and debris littered sidewalks.

    Con Ed crews planned to start investigating after firefighters got the blaze under control. The state Department of Public Service was monitoring Con Ed's response, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

    Area resident Paul Schoengold said he was walking about two blocks away when he heard an "incredibly loud" roar.

    "Then the fire started. I could see the flames on the roof, and they kept getting higher," shooting perhaps 50 feet into the air, he said.

    As freelance photographer Michael Seto ran up to the buildings after hearing the explosion in his apartment a block and a half away, flames were spreading and engulfing one building's first floor.

    Meanwhile, a man was climbing up the fire escape, not down, he said.

    "People were calling to him that the building's on fire — he needs to get down," and he did, Seto said.

    Other witnesses said a woman scrambled down her fire escape in the moments after the explosion. She stopped on the second floor, afraid to go further, and passers-by climbed up to help get her down.

    In the aftermath, one person was lying on the ground, being attended to by two to three passers-by who were holding his head still, Seto said. A woman was sitting on the curb with blood coming down her face, and another woman walked past him with blood on her face, he said.

    ___

    Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz, Tom Hays, Verena Dobnik and Kiley Armstrong contributed to this report.

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    Explosion in Manhattan's East Village

    NYC Officials Launch Fire Safety Effort

    Brooklyn fire that killed seven children causes redoubling of public education efforts
    AARON SHORT and KATIE SHEEHY, The New York Post Published Wednesday, March 25, 2015

    City officials have launched an all-out fire-safety push after seven Orthodox Jewish siblings died in a Brooklyn house blaze over the weekend.

    "It is an unspeakable tragedy, and there has got to be something that we take from it,'' Mayor de Blasio said Monday.

    "Today . . . there is a meeting with Jewish community leaders that was previously planned in anticipation of Passover," he said in Boston, where he was at the US Conference of Mayors.

    Hot Plates and Jewish Sabbath Become Focus of Brooklyn Tragedy

    "Certainly, at that occasion, [Fire] Commissioner [Daniel] Nigro is talking about some of the key safety actions that people have to take, the most important being that everyone needs smoke alarms."

    "We are going to be redoubling our public-education efforts around smoke alarms, but we'll look at other lessons from this tragedy and find ways to work closely with the community,'' he said.

    The children, ages 5 to 16, were killed when an apparently malfunctioning hot plate caught fire at their Midwood home just after midnight Saturday.

    Observant families often keep such plates on overnight during the Sabbath to keep food warm.

    Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams pushed for the construction of a burn unit in the borough.

    "Brooklyn . . . home to the fourth-largest population in the United States, currently has no such facility,'' Adams said.

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    Copyright 2011 Lexus Nexus. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro addresses a news conference at the firehouse of Engine Company 21, in New York, Monday, March 23, 2015. He discussed the the deaths of seven siblings in a house fire after a hot plate left on for the Sabbath is believed to have caused the blaze. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

    New York City Marks 25th Anniversary of Tragic Bronx Social Club Fire

    87 people killed in the Bronx’s Happy Land Social Club blaze
    In this March 25, 1990, file photo, bodies of victims of an arson fire at the Happy Land social club lie covered on the sidewalk outside the club where 87 people perished, in the Bronx borough of New York. March 25, 2015, marks the quarter-century anniversary of what was then the biggest mass murder in modern U.S. history. (AP Photo/Charles Arrigo, File)
    Published Wednesday, March 25, 2015

    NEW YORK (AP) — Twenty-five years ago, what was then the biggest mass murder in U.S. history turned a New York City dance club into a smoky, flame-filled inferno that left dozens of people dead, some with drinks still clutched in their hands.

    That night, a Cuban refugee named Julio Gonzalez tried to win back the woman who had spurned him.

    Gonzalez entered the Happy Land social club in the Bronx, which was humming with mostly immigrants partying and dancing. His former live-in girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, was checking coats and they had a violent argument. Gonzalez was thrown out.

    In a rage, he returned just after 3 a.m., splashing gasoline on Happy Land's only exit and lighting two matches. Then he pulled down the metal front gate.

    Within minutes, 87 people were dead.

    That tragedy in March 1990 will be commemorated on Wednesday evening when a Roman Catholic Mass is held, followed by a procession from the church to a granite memorial near the club, where a candlelight vigil will take place.

    The fire was the worst in New York City since 146 women died in a blaze at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in what is today's Greenwich Village. They were killed exactly 79 years earlier on March 25, 1911.

    That spring night in 1990, people were smothered by black smoke or fatally burned. It happened so quickly that some appeared like frozen figures from Pompeii.

    NIST: Analysis of the Happy Land Social Club Fire with Hazard I



    A few still had drinks in their hands. Some had torn off their party clothes, engulfed by flames. Others died hugging or holding hands. Bodies were piled up on Happy Land's dance floor in the darkness, their faces covered with soot.

    "I woke up and smelled smoke," said Jeff Warley, who lived three blocks away. He walked to the site of the blaze, "and there were still bodies there, on the street" — wrapped in white and awaiting transport.

    Feliciano survived, as did only a handful of others. Among them was the DJ, Ruben Valladares, who plunged into flames, staggering out with burns over 50 percent of his body.

    Those who were trapped included Pablo Blanco's uncle, Mario Martinez, who left behind a wife and baby.

    "He was my favorite uncle, he used to show me how to cook, he used to take me to different family events," said Blanco, standing this week at the edge of Southern Boulevard in the West Farms neighborhood near the onetime club, now a hair salon.

    Even 25 years is not enough to erase the memories of horror vivid in the minds of survivors and those who never again saw their loved ones. One woman lost a half dozen family members, Blanco said.

    "My friend Frank can't even come here, the memories just come up to him — of friends and family he's lost," he said.

    In 1990, Happy Land drew a noisy, happy crowd of mostly young people. The club had been ordered closed for fire hazards — no sprinklers or emergency exits — but continued to operate illegally.

    About two-thirds of the victims were part of a Bronx community of so-called Garifunas — Hondurans descended from proud black natives of the Caribbean exiled by British colonizers more than two centuries ago. In recent years, many Garifunas have fled a repressive Honduran regime and settled in New York.

    That fateful weekend, they were enjoying their go-to club, speaking their own language and dancing to their drum-driven Garifuna music.

    The neighborhood has changed since that night. "It's gotten worse," Blanco said. With an average income of $10,000 per family, dozens of businesses are shuttered after the recession, and many residents are on welfare.

    Gonzalez, now 60, sits behind bars for life in an upstate New York prison. He was convicted on 174 counts of murder — two for each victim on charges of depraved indifference and felony murder.

    A refugee from Fidel Castro's Cuba, he arrived in New York in the Mariel boatlift of 1980. A decade later, he was working in a warehouse, but lost his job six weeks before setting the fire, police said.

    Earlier this month, Gonzalez was denied parole.

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