A gas leak triggered an earthshaking explosion that flattened two New York City apartment buildings, killing at least seven people, injuring more than 60 and leaving four others unaccounted for, officials said.
Fire Department spokesman Danny Glover said on Thursday morning that a seventh body had been found in the rubble. Three bodies were found on Wednesday and three more overnight.
A tenant told the Associated Press that residents had complained repeatedly in recent weeks about "unbearable'' gas smells.
The blast, which scattered debris across nearby rooftops, brought down the adjoining five-story buildings, with a total of 15 apartments, at about 13:30 GMT on a largely residential Upper Manhattan block at East 116th Street and Park Avenue.
Clouds of thick smoke billowed from the rubble of the apartment houses that had sat above a ground-level church and a piano store in a largely Latino working-class neighborhood, according to the Reuters news agency.
Con Edison, which is one of the gas companies here, said that they were responding to a gas-like odour just before the explosion occurred.
Pockets of fire and heat smoldered inside the mounds of debris for many hours after the blasts, complicating search-and rescue operations that continued under flood lights through the night, city Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella said.
He said city officials estimated that the number of people unaccounted for is about four.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who rushed to the scene in East Harlem, where a cascade of twisted and burnt metal blocked the sidewalk and covered parked cars, said preliminary information showed the explosion was caused by a gas leak.
"Con Edison, which is one of the gas companies here, said that they were responding to a gas-like odour just before the explosion occurred," said Al Jazeera's Morgan Radford, reporting from the scene.
Two women were confirmed early in the day as having been killed, and the body of a third woman was found in the rubble later in the day, police said. Late on Wednesday night, search teams pulled the body of a fourth victim from the site, fire department spokesman Khalid Baylor said.
Police said that a body of an adult female and a male were found among the debris early on Thursday.
A few weeks ago, Borrero said, city fire officials were called about the odor, which he said was so bad that a tenant on the top floor broke open the door to the roof for ventilation.
"It was unbearable,'' said Borrero, who lived in a second-floor apartment with his mother and sister, who were away at the time of the explosion.
"You walk in the front door and you want to turn around and walk directly out.''
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies