Rescuers working amid below-freezing temperatures and billowing smoke pulled four more bodies Thursday from the rubble of two New York City apartment buildings, raising the death toll to at least seven from a gas leak-triggered explosion that reduced the area to a pile of smashed bricks and mangled metal.
The blast Wednesday morning in Manhattan's heavily Hispanic East Harlem neighbourhood injured more than 60 people, with searchers still trying to locate others a day later. Crews used generator-powered floodlights and thermal imaging cameras to identify heat spots — bodies or pockets of fire — at the site on Park Avenue and 116th Street. Police guarding the scene wore surgical masks, and neighbourhood residents covered faces with scarfs amid the thick, acrid air.
Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said it was "a very terrible and traumatic scene."
Edward Kilduff, the Fire Department's chief of department, said the amount of debris had been reduced to about 1 1/2 floors by Thursday morning.
Construction equipment with iron jaws picked up the smouldering debris, first depositing it on the pavement, then hoisting it onto trucks that hauled it away. The debris was a wrecked collection of what were once apartment buildings and residents' belongings.
The blast erupted just 15 minutes after a neighbouring resident reported smelling gas, authorities said. The Con Edison utility said it immediately sent workers, but they didn't arrive until it was too late.
Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano and Con Edison CEO John McAvoy said that before the call, they had received no complaints in the last 30 days about a gas leak in the area.