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NTSB Investigating NYC Building Blast

Friday, March 14, 2014

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Reports of a natural-gas leak have drawn federal pipeline investigators to the scene of an explosion that flattened two buildings and killed at least seven people this week in New York City.

Even as the search for survivors and causes continued, a team from the National Transportation Safety Board joined the investigation into the blast and five-alarm blaze in East Harlem.

A Con Edison crew was on the way to the buildings in response to a complaint about gas odors when the buildings blew up at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Although the cause of the explosion has not been finalized, transmission gas pipeline accidents are within the purview of the NTSB. The agency took the lead in investigating the September 2010 pipeline explosion that killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood in San Bruno, CA.

Search for Missing Continues

In New York, at least seven people (four women and three men) were confirmed dead Thursday after the major explosion and fire. Five people were still missing, and more than 60 were reported injured

FDNY / Twitter

Heavy smoke from the deadly blast clouded New York City's skyline Wednesday.

Among the dead were Griselde Camacho, 45; Carmen Tanco, 67; and Rosaura Hernandez-Barrios, 21, local reports said.

In addition to the gas-line reports, details quickly emerged about scores of open building violations involving the stricken structures.

Cause Probed

Officials said the tragedy unfolded about 15 minutes after a resident in a nearby building reported smelling gas.

ConEd said it had dispatched a team at 9:15 to check on the report, but the crew arrived minutes too late.

NTSB / Twitter

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (left) discussed the explosion with National Transportation Safety Board member Robert L. Sumwalt. 

The company says it was not notified of any gas leak before Wednesday morning. However, the buildings’ residents have told reporters that they had complained of a natural-gas smell since Tuesday.

“It was unbearable,” Ruben Borrero, who lived in one of the structures, told CBS New York. “You walk in the front door, and you want to turn around and walk directly out.”

Con Edison said it has an eight-inch, low-pressure gas main that served the street and is conducting a thorough review of its records of gas pipes in the area, reports said.

A spokesman said that the block was checked as recently as Feb. 28 as part of a regular leak survey.

Rescue Efforts

A fire department spokesman described the scene as “very terrible and traumatic,” as rescue crews combed through rubble overnight and into the morning hours, using thermal image cameras and powerful flashlights, according to news outlets.

Reports have also noted that a sinkhole formed in front of one of the buildings, hampering rescue efforts.

Office of the Mayor

In this press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials shared details regarding the explosion and noted that the people who are missing may have not been inside the buildings when the explosion occurred.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has cautioned that the people who are missing may have not been inside the buildings when the explosion occurred. He has further assured families that “every effort” is being made to locate the missing.

2 Buildings, Numerous Violations

The five-story buildings involved in the incident were 1646 and 1644 Park Ave.

The building at 1646 Park Ave. was owned by Kaoru Muramatsu, who also runs a piano shop on the first floor of the building. That building housed nine apartments.

The property had one open violation from the NYC Buildings Department for “failure to maintain building walls or appurtenances” after inspectors discovered “several vertical cracks” in the building in 2008.

Records show a fine of $1,335.84 was paid, but compliance has not been recorded.

The property also has 60 open violations, 13 issued in 2014, from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The violations include defective plastered surfaces, smoke detectors, fire escapes, wood floors, and leaky faucets, according to a review of the record.

The other collapsed building was owned by the Spanish Christian Church, which had a first-floor worship space and six residential units, according to reports.

A local NBC News bureau reported that work permits were issued for that property for the installation of 120 feet of gas piping in June 2013 and that the work was completed June 21.  

There is no indication this installation had anything to do with the explosion, however.

Further, the building had two open violations, dating from 2008, from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, relating to a missing fireproof, self-closing door, the record said.


Tagged categories: Explosions; Fatalities; Fire; Health and safety; Pipeline

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