NEW YORK -- The person who reported a gas odor to utility workers minutes before a fatal Manhattan blast also smelled gas the night before but did not report it, city officials said Thursday, an indication that several lives could have been saved had crews gone to the scene earlier.
At a midday briefing 26 hours after the East Harlem explosion, Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed that at least seven people had died and more were missing.
"We are continuing rescue operations, hoping to find others still alive," he said. "These rescue operations will continue for an open-ended period of time."
Workers were hampered by strong, icy winds that made the 20-degree temperature feel even colder, and that slowed efforts to douse hot spots remaining from the Wednesday morning disaster.
Two five-story buildings containing a total of 15 apartment units were demolished and debris was hurled for blocks, landing on nearby railroad tracks, building roofs, and covering the stretch of Park Avenue between 116th and 117th streets where the homes had stood.
Officials have blamed the blast on a gas leak, and some area residents have said that they had been plagued by the smell of gas earlier in the week.
But city officials say a review of calls to 911 and to the city's 311 complaint line, dating back to 2010, show none related to gas leaks in the area. In addition, Consolidated Edison Chief Executive John McAvoy said the gas main serving the area was checked on Feb. 10 and Feb. 28 and there were no problems.
McAvoy said the check was a routine survey to ensure that the city's extremely cold winter weather, which can cause the ground to "heave," had not put added stress on the pipeline.
However, he said the person who called Con Ed at 9:13 a.m. on Wednesday to report a gas odor told utility workers at that time that the smell had been noticeable on Tuesday night.
"As part of that call, the individual said he had smelled gas the night before," McAvoy said. "He didn't call the night before."
Before utility crews reached the scene, an explosion destroyed the buildings.
Drone captures scene at East Harlem explosion that flattened two buildings. http://t.co/K2CbXjVnSp— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) March 13, 2014
Sixty-six people were displaced as the city shut down gas and heat in the area and ordered 89 residential units vacated.
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