Workers may have “inappropriately” tapped into a gas line hours before an explosion rocked the East Village neighbourhood of New York City on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.
The explosion caused two buildings to collapse and two other buildings to catch fire. As of Friday morning, 22 people were confirmed injured, four were in critical condition and at least two people had been reported missing.
It could take up to a week to determine the official cause of the blast, Mr de Blasio said Friday, as workers will have to clear tonnes of debris to reach the basement in which the explosion occurred, according to the Associated Press.
“It certainly looks like a possible option that something was tapped into inappropriately,” the mayor said, adding that private gas and plumbing work had been underway in one of the buildings.
Inspectors from the local utility company Con Edison had been at the scene just an hour before the explosion and discovered that some work that had been done was unsatisfactory, but said there were no safety issues.
Officials said the Con Edison inspectors were looking into previous work done on the building, not responding to a call reported on Thursday.
The people who have not been accounted for are believed to have been eating at a sushi restaurant in the building where the explosion occurred. One of the missing was identified by local media as Nicholas Figueroa, a 23-year-old college student. It is not clear exactly how many people are missing.
Eleven buildings in the area were evacuated because of the blast, leaving residents of 144 apartments homeless for the time being, the AP reported.
“You rarely see a scene of such devastation in the middle of a city like this,” Mr de Blasio said. “It will take days ... possibly most of a week to get all of that debris out of the area.”
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