Search Continues for Nine Still Missing After East Harlem Buildings Collapse

The search continues today for nine people still unaccounted for after a gas explosion, fire, and the collapse of two buildings in East Harlem killed seven and injured more than 60.

By Wednesday night, three of the dead had been identified: Griselde Camacho, 45, a security officer at Hunter College; Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist; and 21-year-old Rosaura Hernandez-Barrios. Four more bodies were found in the rubble overnight, reports.

The explosion occurred around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. About 15 minutes before the explosion, Con Ed received a call about a gas odor and immediately dispatched a crew, which arrived moments after the explosion, according to FoxNews. Immediately after the collapse, emergency workers were hindered by a five-alarm fire and a sinkhole caused by a water main break. Once the fire was brought under control, crews worked through the night, despite rain, gusty winds, and freezing temperatures. They used thermal-imaging cameras to identify heat spots indicating bodies or still-smoldering pockets of fire, according to FoxNews. Fire Department spokesman Jim Long described the scene as “very terrible and traumatic.”

Most of the injured were treated and released by area hospitals, but a 15-year-old boy is in critical condition with burns, broken bones and internal injuries. Because of debris from the blast on elevated railroad tracks and concerns about possible structural damage, MetroNorth suspended service on the Harlem line for nearly five hours, the New York Post reported.

Ruben Borrero, who lived in one of the destroyed buildings, said residents had complained to the landlord of a gas odor as recently as Tuesday, according to FoxNews. Though Borrero said fire officials had been called about the odor, the fire department said it has no record of gas odor reports from those buildings in the past month. Con Ed repaired a small gas leak in the building next door to Borrero’s last May. No problems were detected on the block during a regular leak survey on February 28, according to Con Ed.

Police Commissioner William Bratton told Channel 11 news this morning that emergency workers are searching the site for those still unaccounted for since the blast.

Residents of buildings near the explosion site were not allowed to return home on Wednesday night because power and gas had been shut off. The American Red Cross provided meals to more than 130 people, while the Salvation Army offered  accommodations, FoxNews reports.

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