Investigators sifted through the charred rubble surrounding a Bronx power plant Saturday, trying to reconstruct events leading up to a massive gas explosion that killed two people and injured scores of others.
Consolidated Edison sent a team of experts to its Hellgate power facility, where more than 100 utility repairmen were working to fix five electricity feeders damaged in the spectacular Friday afternoon blast.
The thunderous explosion, apparently touched off when a Con Ed worker backed a backhoe into an exposed gas line, sent bright orange flames surrounded by plumes of thick black smoke hundreds of feet into the air.
The monstrous blaze forced the utility to shut off electric service for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers on Friday, paralyzing subway service for evening rush hour commuters.
Electric service was restored, but customers on the Upper East Side of Manhattan were asked to limit usage to prevent an overload on the system.
Utility investigators were trying to determine the exact cause of the explosion and whether the utility’s construction crew was aware of the gas line, said Laurie Hanson, a Con Ed spokeswoman.
It was unclear whether government officials would take part in the investigation. Con Ed comes under the purview of the state’s Public Service Commission. A spokesman for the commission was not available for comment.
The fire damaged the Hellgate facility itself, destroyed a nearby recycling plant, demolished at least 20 cars and forced police to evacuate residents from the area.
Hundreds of firefighters battled the five-alarm blaze, which abated somewhat after Con Ed shut off the gas line feeding the fire about an hour after the explosion.
The operator of the backhoe, Louis Seminario, 58, of Queens, was declared dead at the scene, officials said. One other unidentified person, a teen-ager who apparently was a bystander, was pulled from the East River and later died from a heart attack.
More than 30 firefighters and eight others suffered injuries in the explosion and fire, officials said.
Authorities ordered police in the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens to work overtime to prevent looting and vandalism, but no incidents were reported, officials said.