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Report: Residents Of East Village Building Told Gas Was Being Turned Off Prior To Explosion

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - Tenants in an East Village building that exploded may have been told not to tell Consolidated Edison inspectors they had gas service.

A law enforcement source tells Newsday residents of 121 Second Ave. were told their gas was being turned off before Con Ed inspectors arrived last week. They may have also have been told not to alert the utility their apartments had service, WCBS 880's Paul Murnane reported.

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.

PHOTOS: East Village Explosion

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

Report: Residents Of East Village Building Told Gas Was Being Turned Off Prior To Explosion

"When they smelled the gas, the restaurant owner called the owner of the building, which was a major mistake. They should have called 911. We don't know what the outcome would have been," said Joseph Esposito, commissioner of the city's Office of Emergency Management.

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.

A Daily News report says bags of shredded paper could be seen as city investigators arrived at the home of the building's landlord.

Debris was still being removed Tuesday as a multi-agency investigation looked over records for gas service to the building.

Approximately 30 firefighters remained on the scene and are sifting through the debris, the mayor's office said Tuesday.

Report: Residents Of East Village Building Told Gas Was Being Turned Off Prior To Explosion

Residents of nearby buildings as well as East Village business owners wanted answers.

"Maybe we'll get some criminal prosecutions here, but you need something terrible like this to happen in order for the city to take notice," one neighbor told Murnane.

At a bakery a few doors down from the blast site, speculation about the source of the explosion could be heard from behind the counter.

"Tampered," an employee said. "(Are a lot of people talking about it in the neighborhood?) Yeah, they are. You know, two people lost their lives, the other people lost their homes and everything."

Con Ed said it is cooperating fully with all requests for information.

Two bodies were found in the rubble. The body of 23-year-old Nicholas Figueroa, who was on a date to Sushi Park on the ground floor at 121 Second Ave., was identified by relatives. A vigil was held for Figueroa on Monday night.

Another body found in the rubble was believed to be 26-year-old Moises Locon, a busboy at the sushi restaurant.

Local businesses this week were also pitching in to help those displaced by the blast.

Veselka Restaurant, a couple of blocks north of the blast scene at 144 Second Ave. at 9th Street, was offering $100 gift cards to members of the 64 households displaced by the fire starting Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Residents must present ID.

A vacate order remains for 125 Second Ave., 41 E. 7th St. and 117 Second Ave., the mayor's office said.

Second Avenue between 5th and 14th streets remains closed.

 (TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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