An hour before an apparent gas explosion sent flames soaring and debris flying at a Manhattan apartment building, injuring 19 people, utility company inspectors decided the work being done there was faulty. The blast yesterday in the East Village caused the building's collapse and largely destroyed another structure. It left four people in critical condition, more than a dozen others injured, and one family searching for a loved one. Restaurant diners ran out of their shoes and bystanders helped one another to escape the midafternoon blast, which damaged four buildings as flames shot into the air, witnesses say. Passers-by were hit by debris and flying glass.
Mayor Bill de Blasio says preliminary evidence suggests a gas explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building that collapsed was to blame. A plumber was doing work connected to a gas service upgrade. Inspectors for utility company Con Edison had been there, the company says, but the work failed the inspection. De Blasio said it didn't appear that anyone was missing, but last night, Tyler Figueroa, 19, of Manhattan said his 23-year-old brother Nicholas had disappeared after going on a date at a sushi restaurant that was leveled by the explosion. He says the couple was paying for the meal when the blast occurred, and the date, who's in the hospital, only remembers stumbling outside before losing consciousness. (Read more Con Ed stories.)