MANHATTAN — While investigators try to determine what caused a massive explosion in the East Village that leveled three buildings, a theory has emerged as to what happened leading up to the blast.
Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed Friday that allegedly improper work on a gas line at 121 Second Ave. was the likely cause of the explosion that set fire to four buildings and injured dozens of people. Two people were still missing.
Investigators who have spoken to workers and blast victims, and culled building records related to the explosion, believe that workers somehow damaged a gas line that was being improperly used to distribute gas throughout 121 Second Ave., which exploded Thursday at 3:15 p.m.
Sources explained that the ground-floor sushi restaurant Sushi Park and another unit in the building were receiving gas from an existing Con Edison feed.
They believe that this existing line may have been improperly used to feed more units than it was supposed to while renovations went on in the building.
Meanwhile, workers had installed a second, larger pipe last August to increase the gas supply to the building to accommodate growing demand for hot water, cooking and laundry dryers, sources said.
But that work had repeatedly failed inspections.
On Thursday, Con Edison reinspected the new pipe at roughly 2 p.m.
Investigators believe a worker may have turned off gas to the original, improperly used pipe, before Con Edison arrived in order to prevent them from discovering that it was being improperly tapped, sources said.
Con Edison workers inspected the new larger pipe, but once again it did not pass muster, and Con Ed refused to turn on gas for its use, and they departed.
Investigators suspect that once they left, a worker went back to the original pipe, and somehow damaged the pipe when he turned the gas back on and created the leak, which exploded a short time later.
General contractor Dilber Kukic, 39, was performing work there about the same time, he told DNAinfo. He returned about an hour later when the building's owner, Maria Hrynenko, told him that people had smelled gas, Kukic said.
The plumber and the owner's son, Michael Hrynenko, 29, went to check the smell, Kukic said.
“As soon as we opened the basement door, there was an explosion, a fire,” he said. "[The place] was full of smoke. The debris was on top of me."
The subcontractor at the was identified by Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce as Jerry Ioannidis, owner of Beta, Plumbing and Heating in Astoria. Several of his workers have been disciplined by the Department of Buildings for their work in recent years, records show.
The fire was still smouldering as of Friday afternoon and the city had tallied 22 injured, with four people still in critical condition. Six of those injured were fire fighters. No fatalities had yet to be reported but at least two people were missing.
Once the fire is out, the Department of Buildings and other city agencies will survey the scene and gather facts about what caused the explosion, officials said.
Addition reporting by Gwynne Hogan.