NEW YORK (AP) – New York police say a second body has been found at the site where a Manhattan building collapsed three days ago after an apparent gas explosion.
No identification was immediately released. Authorities had been looking for signs of two missing men, both believed to have been inside a ground floor sushi restaurant at the time of the explosion: 26-year-old Moises Lucon, who worked at the restaurant, and 23-year-old Nicholas Figueroa, a bowling alley worker who had been there on a date.
The search of the rubble continued after Sunday’s discovery: Workers raked through piles of loose brick and wood; rescue workers sent search dogs over debris where three apartment buildings once stood.
Several members of Figueroa’s family visited the blast site Sunday, holding flowers and crying.
Figueroa’s brother, Neal, leaned over barricades and shouted pleas to emergency workers: “He’s a strong man, I know he’s in there! Don’t give up, please find my brother.”
Authorities, however, acknowledged the chances of finding anyone alive were slim.
An official with knowledge of the operation told The Associated Press that rubble removed from the scene would be taken to a secure location and screened again for human remains. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the operation was ongoing, said workers had reached the basement level at the blast site.
The official said workers would stop digging when they get close to the front wall of the restaurant because that section of the building must be examined as possible evidence of what caused the explosion, which authorities suspect was the result of a natural gas leak.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said someone may have improperly tapped a gas line before the explosion that injured 22 people, four of them critically.
Consolidated Edison said utility workers had discovered in August that the gas line to the restaurant had been illegally tapped. The discovery led Con Edison to shut down gas service to the building for about 10 days while the building owner made repairs. Gas service was restored after the utility deemed it safe, the utility said.
Inspectors from Con Ed had visited that building about an hour before Thursday’s 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. The work underway was to put in a bigger line to serve the entire building, Con Ed President Craig Ivey said.
Fifteen minutes later, the sushi restaurant’s owner smelled gas and called the landlord, who called the general contractor, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. Nobody called 911 or Con Ed.
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’s facing unrelated charges of bribing an undercover investigator posing as a housing inspector —declined through his lawyer to comment on the circumstances surrounding the explosion. City records show Kukic got a permit last June for plumbing, flooring, removing partition walls and other work at the building.
The explosion echoed through the city’s arts community, destroying “Sopranos” actress Drea de Matteo’s apartment — she posted photos on Instagram of “a hole where my NYC home of the last 22 years once stood” — and spurring the cancellation of five performances of the propulsive show “Stomp,” which is at a theater near the site.
The blast happened a little over a year after a gas explosion in a building in East Harlem killed eight people and injured about 50. A gas leak was reported shortly before that blast.