New York City officials reportedly “suspect that leaking natural gas was the source of Thursday’s explosion and fire, which sparked a raging blaze that took hundreds of firefighters to quell.” Last Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that someone “may have improperly tapped a gas line before an explosion that leveled three apartment buildings and injured nearly two dozen people…as firefighters soaked the still-smoldering buildings and police searched for at least two missing people.”
Mayor: Gas-Related Blast Causes Fire, Collapse (AP, 3/26/15)
According to the Associated Press, last August, utility workers discovered that a gas line to a sushi restaurant in one of the three buildings destroyed in the explosion “had been illegally tapped, creating a hazardous situation.”
On Aug. 6, a meter reader at the restaurant detected the smell of gas and reported it, said Consolidated Edison spokesman Allan Drury. A gas crew dispatched to the site found multiple leaks in a gas line that had been tapped, Drury said, adding that the restaurant was the only customer in the building authorized to receive gas.
Drury added that the discovery “led Con Edison to shut down gas service to the building for about 10 days while the building owner made repairs.” He said that gas service was later restored after the utility had deemed it safe.
Investigators are reportedly “looking into whether gas and plumbing work being done privately in one building led to the explosion.”
Jonathan Lemire and Jennifer Peltz (Associated Press) reported on Friday that preliminary evidence suggested “an explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building was to blame.” They said that Consolidated Edison inspectors had gone “to the East Village building to check on ongoing work to upgrade gas service.” The utility said that “the work didn’t pass inspection, so the new gas line was locked to ensure it wouldn’t be used, and inspectors gave instructions and left.” Con Ed inspectors reportedly didn’t smell gas at that time.
Lemire and Peltz reported that just “15 minutes later, the sushi restaurant owner smelled gas and called the landlord, who called a general contractor.” Mayor de Blasio said, however, that no one had called 911 or Con Ed.
Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said that “the contractor, Dilber Kukic, and the owner’s son went into the basement and opened a door, and then the explosion happened, burning their faces.”
Lemire and Peltz:
The building had an existing gas line intended to serve the sushi restaurant; the work underway was to put in a bigger line to serve the entire building, Con Ed President Craig Ivey said. As for whether the largely vacant apartments were getting gas from the existing line, “That’s a great question,” he said.
De Blasio wouldn’t say more about why officials believe the existing gas line might have been tapped. But the building had a history: Con Ed found an unauthorized gas pipe there in August after getting a report of a gas smell, according to a city official briefed on the information. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The pipe was gone when Con Ed checked again 10 days later, the official said. Some of the people involved with the building are not cooperating with investigators, the official said.
The contractor, identified as Dilber Kukic, was one of 50 people arrested in February in a sweep of the city by building and housing inspectors. He was accused of bribing an undercover investigator to dismiss violations at two properties, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said. The hospitalized Kukic could not be reached for comment.
East Village Explosion Possibly Caused by Gas Leak (ABC, 3/26/15)
Utility workers found ‘hazardous situation’ in gas line before NYC blast (Raw Story/Reuters)
NY mayor: Someone may have ‘inappropriately’ tapped gas line (Yahoo News/Associated Press)
Utility Found ‘Hazardous Situation’ Months Before NYC Blast (New York Times)