EAST VILLAGE — Elected officials, community members and families of victims gathered on the one-year anniversary of the East Village gas explosion that killed two people and injured 22 others to reflect on the tragedy and discuss future preventative measures.
The community is still reeling from the explosion that destroyed three Second Avenue buildings, said neighbors, who showed up at the site on Saturday afternoon to commemorate the disaster.
"Whenever I hear a big boom, I still jump. But that slowly is changing," said Bob Quigley, who lives in a neighboring building. "I was out of my home for a month. I thought I lost everything."
Four people were indicted last month for manslaughter and other criminal charges in connection with the devastating blast at 121 Second Ave. Maria Hrynenko, the building’s owner, her son Michael Hrynenko, contractor Dilber Kukic and their plumber Anthanasios Ioannidis illegally tampered with the building’s gas line, and then failed to warn residents before disaster struck, according to the Manhattan DA.
Moises Loicon, 27, and Nicholas Figueroa, 23, died in the explosion, while dozens of families were left homeless and a handful of businesses were temporarily displaced.
A host of elected officials who joined neighbors in observing the tragedy strongly condemned those indicted and thanked the DA for following through with criminal charges, expressing hope that indictments would help those impacted by the tragedy move on.
"We look forward to justice as another step forward in the healing and closure our neighbors may need," Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said.
Mendez is one of several local politicians rallying to pass a package of nine bills she says could help prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. She is sponsoring a bill that would force gas providers to notify the Department of Buildings within 24 hours of shutting off gas service, while other legislation would require more thorough and frequent inspections of gas lines to ensure other "greedy" landlords are not cutting corners at the expense of their tenants' safety, she said.
The stricter measures and heightened accountability will be a proactive way of memorializing the loss that occurred on Second Avenue one year ago, according to the city's Public Advocate, Letitia James.
"These laws are in honor of Nicholas, Moises and the entire East Village community," James said.
Officials also pledged to attempt to ensure that the allegedly negligent building owners do not benefit from the sale of the now-vacant property. One of the parcels of land is currently on the market for $10 million, said state Sen. Brad Hoylman.
Some who lost their homes in the explosion and resulting blaze returned to the site Saturday to thank those in the community who came to their aid, recalling local churches and organizations such as LES Ready that helped provide temporary shelter to those displaced.
"I am so grateful and I feel so blessed," said resident Mildred Guy, who sought shelter in the now-closed Church of the Nativity after her apartment was destroyed. "There were so many people who opened their arms."