East Village recovering from explosion, DA starts investigation

Firefighters work to put out last Thursday’s deadly fire. (Photo by Robert Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)

Firefighters work to put out last Thursday’s deadly fire. (Photo by Robert Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

One week ago on Thursday, three buildings on Second Avenue near East 7th Street collapsed due to an explosion and fire last Thursday that killed two people. The first two buildings to collapse were 121 and 123 Second Avenue on Thursday afternoon and the fire that followed the explosion largely gutted the third building involved, 119 Second Avenue. Firefighters at the scene demolished the parts of the building’s façade that remained standing with water on Thursday evening, The New York Times reported.

The FDNY had gotten the emergency call from 125 Second Avenue at 3:17 p.m. and while that building did not collapse, it was heavily fire damaged, although additional information about the conditions was not immediately available.

The mayor confirmed last Thursday evening that the explosion was caused by plumbing and gas work that was going on in 121 Second Avenue and Con Edison said on Thursday that the building had failed an inspection earlier that day.

“Con Edison personnel were at the location to evaluate work the building plumber was doing inside 121 Second Avenue in connection with a gas service upgrade,” the utility said. “The work failed our inspection for several reasons, including insufficient spacing for the installation of the meter in the basement.”

The New York Times also found that utility workers had discovered a gas line that had been tapped in a “dangerous way” in the basement of Sushi Park restaurant, located at 121 Second Avenue, more than seven months before the explosion. During that inspection, Con Edison workers found that gas intended for Sushi Park was being siphoned off for the apartments in the five-story building above the restaurant. The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the District Attorney’s office is investigating the incident, meaning there is the possibility of criminal charges.

Con Edison added that there were no reports of gas odors in the area prior to the explosion and an investigation done last Wednesday didn’t find any leaks. However, the owner of Sushi Park reportedly called the landlord about a gas odor on Thursday afternoon and instead of calling Con Edison or 911, the son of the building’s landlord and a general contractor went to investigate themselves. The explosion occurred just as they reached the basement.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that two bodies were found in the rubble of the fallen buildings, ending the search for the only two people that had been reported missing following the explosion. One body was identified as Nicholas Figueroa, 23, who had been on a date in Sushi Park at the time and officials believe that the second body is that of a busboy at the restaurant, 27-year-old Moises Lucon. The New York Daily News noted that DNA testing is being done to confirm the identity of the body.

According to Gothamist, the woman Figueroa was at the restaurant with was recovering from a broken nose at Bellevue, but was reportedly so dazed that she didn’t remember who she had been out with until hours later.

Mayor de Blasio said on Monday that three of the four people who had been taken to Bellevue in critical condition had been released and the fourth is in good condition. As of Monday, 60 residential units in nearby buildings on Second Avenue were still under vacate order.

Second Avenue was closed to vehicle traffic from East 14th Street to Houston after the explosion on Thursday afternoon and remained closed from East 5th to 14th through the beginning of this week. The affected buildings included a number of apartments as well as restaurants Sushi Park, and Sam’s Deli and Pommes Frites, both next door at 123 Second Avenue. De Blasio noted on Friday that 11 buildings with 144 apartments in the area had been evacuated. As of Friday, temporary housing had been found for 30 people of the 84 who registered for various types of help.

The American Red Cross had opened a reception center inside P.S. 63 at 121 East Third Street on Thursday but it was later moved to the Tompkins Square Library at 331 East 10th Street between Avenues A and B, offering medicine, mental health services and other assistance to those affected. The mayor said that the city is working to make sure there is housing for the displaced residents.

The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and the Red Cross are both soliciting donations for the victims who have been displaced and affected by the explosion and fire. Local blog Bowery Boogie noted that Enz’s Rockabilly, a shop at 125 Second Avenue, is still standing but has been badly fire damaged and needs help to rebuild. The fundraising campaign is posted on YouCaring.com and can be found by searching for “Enz’s Rockabilly Store.”

Other residents have set up fundraising pages for friends and family members affected through the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church, has told Town & Village the church will be accepting monetary donations and the building is currently serving as a base for first responders. Lower East Side nonprofit LES Ready is looking for volunteers to assist with long-term recovery efforts and anyone looking to help out can email lilah@goles.org or visit goles.org to fill out a volunteer application.

A previous version of this story appeared on the Town & Village blog last Thursday.

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