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Searchers scour NYC rubble after gas explosion kills 7

By The Associated Press

This article was published March 13, 2014 at 6:45 a.m.

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Firefighters continue to spray water on the smoldering debris from an explosion in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 in New York. A gas leak triggered an explosion that shattered windows a block away, rained debris onto elevated commuter railroad tracks close by, cast a plume of smoke over the skyline and sent people running into the streets.

NEW YORK — Rescuers working amid gusty winds, low temperatures and billowing smoke pulled three additional bodies overnight from the rubble of two Manhattan apartment buildings, as the death toll rose Thursday to at least seven from a gas leak-triggered explosion that reduced the area to a pile of smashed bricks, splinters and mangled metal.

The explosion Wednesday morning in East Harlem injured more than 60 people, with searchers still trying to locate others a day later. Crews used generator-powered floodlights and thermal imaging cameras to identify heat spots — bodies or pockets of fire — at the site on Park Avenue and 116th Street. Police guarding the scene wore surgical masks and neighborhood residents covered faces with scarfs amid the thick, acrid air.

"This is a difficult job, a challenging job," Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said. He said it was "a very terrible and traumatic scene."

Searches of the street were completed Wednesday evening and no victims had been found there, city officials said. Workers initially were hampered from fully accessing the building space because of a sinkhole caused by a subsurface water main break. The weather also posed a challenge, with temperatures dropping into the 20s and rain falling, but workers remained at the site.

The fiery blast occurred about 9:30 a.m. EDT, about 15 minutes after a neighboring resident reported smelling gas, authorities said. The Con Edison utility said it immediately sent workers to check out the report, but they didn't arrive until it was too late.

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