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Bodies Found at Manhattan Explosion Site; Investigation Into Cause Continues

The bodies of two missing men were found Sunday at the site of an explosion possibly caused by natural gas in New York City, according to New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro, and investigators are reportedly looking into allegations of pipeline tampering prior to the accident.

The bodies were found in one of the buildings destroyed by an explosion and fire in the East Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan Thursday afternoon, Nigro told reporters. The explosion occurred at about 3:17 p.m. EDT in a building at 121 2nd Ave. that housed a restaurant on the ground floor and residences in upper floors (see Daily GPIMarch 27). The bodies had not been identified, but were believed to be two men who had reportedly been in the restaurant at the time of the accident, Nigro said.

Twenty-two people were injured and two others were missing following the explosion, which caused the collapse or partial collapse of three buildings, heavy fire damage in a fourth, and forced the evacuations of 11 more.

An investigation into the cause of the explosion is underway, and natural gas is believed to have played a role in the explosion, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"We have our suspicions based on what we know so far, but until we've done the full investigation, we won't be able to confirm it...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," de Blasio told reporters Monday morning.

Con Edison of New York, the utility that serves the area, had workers in the building about an hour prior to the explosion to evaluate a meter installation for a new service that was going to be installed there.

"As we do in all cases when a customer is upgrading to a new gas service, we conducted careful inspections at 121 2nd Ave. Our records show the work of the building's plumber failed two inspections, including the inspection our personnel conducted yesterday afternoon," the company said Friday. "At no time was use of the new service line authorized by Con Edison. That service was locked to ensure that it would not be used. The ground floor restaurant was being served by its current, smaller gas service line."

Con Edison said it shut off gas to 187 residential and 32 commercial customers in the East Village Friday morning while the Fire Department of New York carried out recovery work at the site of the explosion and collapsed buildings.

The accident came a little more than a year after a gas-related explosion and fire that killed seven people and destroyed two buildings in the East Harlem section of New York City (see Daily GPIMarch 12, 2014). A subsequent investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed natural gas in unusual concentrations in the ground near the site of that explosion (see Daily GPIMarch 17, 2014).

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