Eighth body found in New York City building explosion

Eighth body found in New York City building explosion

In this image handout provided by the Office of Mayor of New York, firefighters from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) respond to a five-alarm fire and building collapse at 1646 Park Ave in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan March 12, 2014 in New York City. (Rob Bennett/Office of Mayor of New York/Getty Images)

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by ABC News

WHAS11.com

Posted on March 13, 2014 at 9:12 PM

(ABC News) --  The death toll in Wednesday's suspected gas explosion and building collapse in New York City has risen to eight, with four additional victims pulled out of the still-smoldering rubble this morning and one body discovered this evening.

Investigators found the bodies of two adult males and one adult female this morning, ABC News confirmed. An additional body was pulled out of the wreckage after dawn, prior to this evening's discovery. Several people are reported missing and have not yet been found, Fire Department officials said.

Four of the victims have been identified so far. Among them, 43-year-old Andreas Panagopoulos, a Greek musician who worked in advertising; 21-year-old Mexican national Rosaura Hernandez-Barrios; Griselde Camacho, who worked as a public safety officer at Hunter College; and Carmen Tanco, 67.

Other bodies found overnight and this morning include two unidentified adult men and another adult female who was badly burned, city officials said. At least five people were unaccounted for, the NYPD reported before the eighth body was found this evening.

One of those women, Rosaura Barrios Vazquez, 44, is believed to be the mother of the deceased Hernandez-Barrios, the Mexican consulate said. The most seriously injured survivor, 15-year-old Oscar Hernandez, is also thought to be related to those two women.

At a news conference today, Mayor Bill de Blasio said authorities are "continuing rescue operations hoping to find others alive."

"This city is no stranger to adversity," de Blasio said. "We somehow persevere despite everything thrown at us."

At least 70 others were injured in the incident, which happened at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the building at 116th Street and Park Avenue in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Con Edison was responding to a report of a gas odor when the explosion happened, city officials said.

"There are still a lot of unknowns here and that only adds to the difficulty," de Blasio said.

There were no reports of gas leaks in 30 days preceding the incident, Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano said today. Con Edison also searched its records going back three years and the only reports were minor leaks in customer lines, not gas mains -- the latest one in May 2013, said CEO John McAvoy.

Before investigators can determine the cause of the explosion, the still smoldering fire will have to be extinguished and the rubble cleared, officials said.

"What we need to do is get to the basement," Cassano said, to find the source of ignition or leak.

Google images of the building show two commercial storefronts on the ground floor with four floors of residential apartments above those storefronts.

"I was standing in my room when I heard the explosion and the building shook at the same time," said Rosario Valderdo, who lives in the apartment building next door. "The windows were shattered and I grabbed my dog and went outside. The building had collapsed and there were people underneath it and they were trying to take them away from there."

Neighbors said shattered glass from nearby storefronts and debris littered the ground following the blast.

"The explosion woke me up. The building shook, my mother's window fell in," said neighbor Adam Ocasio. "You could see the smoke and debris as soon as you got outside."

Brandon Whitaker was also sleeping in his home in the nearby Taft Houses when he was awoken with a start.

 "My room shook, I was disoriented," Whitaker said. "Feels like an earthquake right in your room, an earthquake and a car crash right in your room, that's loud and abrasive. It was shaking, and I thought the Metro-North [train] had crashed."

The city Buildings Department has determined that the structural integrity of surrounding buildings was not impacted by the explosion and fire.

Officials investigating the cause of the explosion said the pipe that supplied natural gas to the two buildings has no obvious rupture, and that is not unusual for a low pressure type such as this one to remain intact.

A pressure test will be needed to determine the location of the leak, said Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board, which also investigates gas pipeline accidents.

Relatives still searching for their loved ones can call the city's 311 hotline and ask for the unified victim identification system, said de Blasio, confirming they had received roughly 200 calls so far.

"I want to emphasize anyone affected by this tragedy will be helped, regardless of immigration status," said de Blasio. "They should not be afraid. We intend to help everyone."

ABC News' Dan Childs contributed to this report.

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