Firefighters are using high-powered water towers to extinguish pockets of fire at the site of an apparent gas explosion in Manhattan's East Village as authorities reported that up to three people were missing.
Twenty-two others were injured, four critically, after the powerful blast and fire sent flames soaring and debris flying on Thursday afternoon. Authorities said they were searching for Nicholas Figueroa, who had been on a date at a restaurant in one of three buildings that were levelled, and Moises Lucon, a worker there.
Police said they also were trying to determine whether another person reported missing - but not thought to have been in the destroyed buildings - was connected to the explosion.
Preliminary evidence suggested that a gas explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building was to blame. An hour before the blast, utility company inspectors decided the work being done there was faulty.
Tyler Figueroa said his 23-year-old brother, Nicholas, had disappeared after going on a date at a sushi restaurant.
Mr Figueroa said that the couple was paying for the meal when the blast occurred and that his brother's date, who is in the hospital, remembers only stumbling outside before losing consciousness.
"I just pray my brother shows up," he said.
Today, firefighters poured water over the wreckage, a giant wave of crumbled brick, twisted metal, splintered wood and bits of residents' belongings. Rubble was still strewn across parked cars, and a menu from the sushi restaurant and other debris were scattered across the surrounding streets.
Initial evidence pointed to a gas explosion. A plumber was doing work connected to a gas service upgrade in one of the now-destroyed buildings, and inspectors for Con Edison had been there earlier, company President Craig Ivey said. But the work failed the inspection, partly because a space for the new meters wasn't big enough, Con Ed said.
Con Edison said it had surveyed the gas mains on Wednesday and found no leaks.
The explosion scuppered performances of hit stage show Stomp, which was being staged at The Orpheum Theatre at 126 Second Avenue, a few doors from the blast site.
Producers said five shows scheduled for today, tomorrow and Sunday had been scrapped.
Ticket-holders were advised to return or exchange tickets at the point of purchase.