2 missing after explosion & fire in Manhattan’s trendy East Village

New York City Fire Department firefighters walk on 2nd Avenue towards the site of where a residential apartment was engulfed in flames in New York City March 26, 2015. (Reuters / Mike Segar)
Two people are missing as firefighters work to put out pockets of fire at four buildings in Manhattan’s East Village. A gas explosion in one of them ‒ where inspectors found faulty work ‒ injured 19 and caused three buildings to collapse.

Nicholas Figueroa was at the sushi restaurant on the first floor of 121 Second Avenue when the explosion ripped through the building, and he remains unaccounted for, his family told the New York Times. The co-worker he was with was treated for injuries at Bellevue Hospital, her relatives told the Figueroa family.

“I don’t know what to do,” Tyler Figueroa, the 23-year-old brother of the missing man, said early Friday outside of a makeshift Red Cross center in the East Village. “We’re just praying that they find him.”

Figueroa and one other person remain unaccounted for, but official missing-person reports have not been filed, according to the NYPD.

The explosion occurred around 3:15 pm ET, and the fire quickly spread to the buildings at 119, 123 and 125 Second Avenue. The Fire Department upgraded the emergency from a two-alarm to a seven-alarm call within a half-hour. A seven-alarm emergency means that about 250 firefighters were at the location from about 50 fire department units.

“We have 250 members here on the scene, the first units arrived in less than three minutes after the first report,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters Thursday afternoon. “The explosion blew the front of 121 across the street. For the first 15 minutes on the scene, before the building collapse, the FDNY made extremely dangerous searches of these buildings to search for any buildings and were forced out by the subsequent collapses of 121 and 123.”

At least 19 people ‒ and possibly more than 25, according to some local media reports ‒ were injured, four of them critically. The majority of people injured were hurt at the time of the explosion, Nigro said. The critically injured include two people with burns to their airways, and another person who became unconscious after the event.

The majority of people self-evacuated after the explosion, he added.

Among emergency workers, four firefighters were taken to area hospitals and one EMS worker was evaluated on the scene, the fire departmentsaid.

Preliminary evidence suggested that a gas explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building was to blame, city officials said.

Con Edison, the gas utility for the city, had employees in the building an hour before the explosion, as a private company was upgrading 121’s initial gas service to a larger service, ConEd President Craig Ivey told reporters.

“We were at the building earlier today at 2 p.m. approximately, to evaluate a meter installation for new service to the building,” Ivey said. “That meter did not pass the inspection at that time, and was not ready for gas to be introduced.”

The utility work failed the inspection partly because a space for the new meters wasn't big enough, ConEd said.

“Gas was introduced to the head of service just inside the building’s walls, but was locked there,” Ivey added.

Two of the buildings ‒ 121 and 123 Second Avenue ‒ collapsed as flames still raged. The blaze was so intense that firefighters at one point had to withdraw from the buildings and engage in what one official called a “defensive outside attack,” pumping a deluge of water onto the structures, the New York Times reported.

Firefighters contained the fire to 119 Second Avenue, which collapsed overnight. The building at 125 Second Avenue was also damaged by the inferno.

As of 7 a.m., 50 firefighters were still at the scene, using high-powered water towers to extinguish pockets of fire, pouring gallons of water over the wreckage, a giant wave of crumbled brick, twisted metal and splintered wood, AP reported.

Heartbroken for our #eastvillage neighbors and neighborhood this morning.

A photo posted by Emily Egan (@emilyhannah___) on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:36am PDT

A light rain is helping keep the smell of smoke from permeating the city, but neighbors said the sirens and smell from the burning buildings kept them up throughout the night.

Sopranos star Drea De Matteo was one of those whose apartment was destroyed due to the blaze in the trendy Manhattan neighborhood.

A hole where my NYC home of the last 22 years once stood... RIP 123 2nd Avenue

A photo posted by Drea De Matteo (@dreadematteo) on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:18pm PDT

"A hole where my NYC home of the last 22 years once stood…" she wrote in an Instagram post. "RIP 123 2nd Avenue."