Watch CBS News

Search Continues For 2 Missing Men In Rubble From East Village Explosion

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The search was under way Saturday for two missing people in the ruins of the explosion that leveled three buildings in the East Village earlier this week.

Meanwhile, some residents of nearby buildings were allowed back into their apartments Saturday afternoon.

Firefighters were using cadaver-sniffing dogs for a second day Saturday to search for the two men who were last seen in the Sushi Park restaurant at 121 Second Ave. just north of 7th Street. The building, along with neighboring 119 and 123 Second Ave., was destroyed in the explosion on Thursday, 1010 WINS' Roger Stern reported.

City officials say roughly 60 firefighters are on the scene suppressing pockets of fire needing to be extinguished, WCBS 880's Monica Miller reported.

Under bright spotlights, firefighters also took on massive amounts of rubble from the three buildings – carefully digging through it by hand, CBS2's Matt Kozar reported.

"We don't just pick it up with machines and put it in a truck and drive it away," said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

Some firefighters are helping from an adjacent apartment building, relaying what they see from above.

Search Continues For 2 Missing Men In Rubble From East Village Explosion

Bowling alley worker Nicholas Figueroa, 23, was on a date at Sushi Park at the time of the explosion, which originated in the 121 building, WCBS 880's Sophia Hall reported.

"It has me shaking," said his brother, Brandon Figueroa. "It's very nerve-wracking to think about it."

The woman who was with Figueroa escaped, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.

Search Continues For 2 Missing Men In Rubble From East Village Explosion

"I know from her best friend that she has a broken nose, fractured ribs," said Figueroa's younger brother, Neal.

Neal Figueroa was trying to stay positive.

"I know my faith is strong. I know my family's faith is strong," he said. "I know everything is going to be all right."

But he admitted he was frustrated.

"Why can't we get 100 people over there?" he said. "Digging individual bricks, you know? One by one."

Nicholas Figueroa is a recent graduate of SUNY Buffalo State who had been working at Bowl-Mor Lanes.

The other missing man, 26-year-old Moises Locon, was a busboy of the restaurant.

"He's my family," said the busboy's brother, Alfred Locon. "And he's my brother and I just want to find him, and that's it."

Search Continues For 2 Missing Men In Rubble From East Village Explosion

Fire marshals were also at the smoldering scene, waiting for excavators to make a dent in the debris that is covering important clues in the investigation.

"There is a possibility here that the gas line was inappropriately accessed internally by people in the building,'' but officials need to get access to the wreckage to explore it further, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday.

He wouldn't say more about why officials believe that's a possibility.

Sources tell CBS2 investigators are looking into whether plumbers in the basement of 121 Second Ave. made an illegal connection to the building's gas line to feed newly-installed piping.

The Mayor's office issued an update early Saturday afternoon on the progress of the cleanup and investigation.

Crews Continue To Sift Through Rubble Of East Village Explosion

The FDNY and the Department of Buildings were still working to determine building stability in the surrounding area.

The Department of Buildings said as of Saturday morning, 40 apartments were ready to reoccupy. Full vacate orders remain for three buildings – the 22-unit building at 41 E. 7th St., the 26-unit building at 125 Second Ave. right next to the buildings that collapsed, and the 22-unit building at 127 Second Ave.

Vacate orders have been lifted for the buildings across the street from the scene at 118, 120, 122, 124, and 126 Second Ave., but partial vacate orders remain in place for some units in those buildings due to repairs that are needed.

"You could actually feel sort of like a shockwave.  I felt the trembling," Ernest Caushi said.

Caushi works at Local 92, a restaurant a block away.  He said he and a co-worker ran to help when they heard the explosion.

"The rim and the edges of the top part of the rood just started to falling, and I mean chunks like huge pieces," he said.

Search Continues For 2 Missing Men In Rubble From East Village Explosion

"Luckily I was not there when the building exploded, but we couldn't stay there for the next couple of nights because it was really, really smoky," David, a student at NYU who lives nearby, told 1010 WINS' Gary Baumgarten.

No structural issues were found during inspections of the other buildings within the parameters of 7th Street to St. Mark's Place and Second Avenue to Third Avenue.

Preliminary evidence suggested that an explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building was to blame.

Inspectors with Con Edison had been to the 121 building about an hour before the blast to check on some ongoing work to upgrade gas service there.

The utility said the work didn't pass inspection, so gas wasn't introduced to the line, and inspectors gave some instructions and left at around 2:45 p.m. Con Ed said inspectors didn't smell any gas.

But at around 3 p.m. Thursday, the sushi restaurant owner did smell gas and called the landlord, who then called a general contractor, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. No one called 911, however, de Blasio said.

The contractor, Dilber Kukic, and the owner's son went into the basement and opened a door, and then the explosion happened, burning both their faces, Boyce said.

Twenty-two people were also injured, four critically, after the powerful blast and fire sent flames soaring and debris flying Thursday afternoon.

PHOTOS: Second Avenue Building Explosion

It will take days, possibly as long as a week, to clear all the debris from the area, de Blasio said.

The building collapse continued to affect traffic on the East Side on Saturday. Second Avenue remained closed Saturday between 5th and 14th streets, and 6th and 7th streets and St. Mark's Place also remained closed.

The Office of Emergency Management said residents and business owners should bring ID to get into the area.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 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.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.