2015 East Village gas explosion
|Date||March 26, 2015|
|Location||121 Second Avenue, East Village, Manhattan, New York City|
|Property damage||Buildings located at 119, 121, and 123 Second Avenue collapsed.|
A gas explosion occurred in the afternoon of March 26, 2015, in a building located at 121 Second Avenue, in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The explosion was caused by an illegal tap into a gas main. The explosion caused two deaths, injured at least nineteen people, four critically, and the resulting fire completely destroyed three adjacent buildings at 119, 121, and 123 Second Avenue between East 7th Street and St. Marks Place.
In August 2014, a meter reader for Consolidated Edison, the utility company that delivers natural gas, electricity, and steam in New York City and in the metropolitan area, discovered that someone had illegally tapped into the 1+1⁄2-inch (3.8 cm) gas line which serviced the "Sushi Park" Japanese restaurant at 121 Second Avenue, the only part of the building authorized to receive gas service from Con Edison. The illegal taps were serving some of the apartments in the building. Con Ed turned off the gas to the building for 10 days until the taps were removed and the plumber who did the work certified to the city's Building Department that it had been completed. Neither the Building Department nor Con Edison were required by law to verify that the work had been done.
In the days before the explosion, work was ongoing in the building for the installation of a new 4-inch (10 cm) gas line to service the apartments in 121 Second Avenue. Con Edison workers inspected the installation just an hour before the explosion, but did not pass it, for reasons not related to safety. The new line was locked off and not operational.
The row of buildings along Second Avenue between East 7th and 8th Streets had landmark status due to being part of the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, created by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2012.: 239–242 The date for the original construction of the Queen Anne style building at #121 is not known, but it was altered around 1886; the Greek Revival one at #123 was built around 1834 and altered to the Neo-Grec style in 1913 by George F. Pelham; and the building at #125, which was designed by Pelham in the Renaissance Revival style, was built in 1901. All three buildings were 5-story tenements, with #121 and 123 being old-law buildings, and #125 being a new law tenement.
On the day of the explosion, Con Edison investigators had inspected a new gas pipe installation at 121 2nd Avenue, which remained turned off, and left about 2:45 PM. Shortly afterwards, the owner of the restaurant smelled gas and called the landlord of the building, but they neither reported it to Con Edison nor called 9-1-1.
When the contractor in charge of the work being done and the landlord's son opened the basement door, an explosion occurred, with the front of the restaurant being blown out across the street. The first emergency calls started about 3:17 PM. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "The initial impact appears to have been caused by plumbing and gas work that was occurring inside 121 Second Avenue." Eleven other buildings were evacuated as a result of the explosion, and Con Edison turned off the gas to the area. Several days later, some residents were allowed to return to some of the vacated buildings. City officials, including de Blasio, said they suspect that leaking natural gas was the cause of the explosion.
The explosion sparked a seven-alarm fire with 250 firefighters involved; four firefighters were treated for injuries.
According to law enforcement sources, the working theory is that one or more gas lines were surreptitiously tapped over several months using a device that was attached to the gas line with hoses siphoning gas to other lines. The siphoning apparatus was dismantled or hidden on Thursday before Consolidated Edison conducted an inspection. As soon as the utility inspectors left, an attempt to resume the diversion of gas went awry, setting off the explosion.
The three adjacent buildings at 119, 121, and 123 Second Avenue, on the North-West corner of East Seventh Street and Second Avenue were all completely reduced to rubble by the early morning of March 27, 2015. An adjacent building, 125 2nd Avenue, was severely damaged but is still standing.
Residents of 144 apartments in eleven buildings were evacuated. Multiple residents and families in the impacted area lost their homes.
Four restaurants were completely destroyed, all located on the first floors in the collapsed buildings: East Noodle ramen shop at 119 Second Avenue; Sushi Park, a Japanese restaurant at 121 Second Avenue; and two restaurants at 123 Second Avenue: Pommes Frites—a Belgian fries shop—and Sam's Deli. An adjacent storefront in 125 Second Avenue was badly damaged. A month later, many businesses in the neighborhood were still recovering economically from the explosion, including six businesses, such as Burp Castle, which remained closed more than a week after the explosion and six that were destroyed in the explosion. The Good Old Lower East Side, a nonprofit social organization in the neighborhood, organized fundraising and donation drives to help people affected by the explosion.
Two men were killed in the explosion. The men, who had been in Sushi Park – a storefront restaurant in 121 Second Avenue – were identified as Moises Ismael Locón Yac, a 27-year-old employee of the restaurant; and Nicholas Figueroa, a 23-year-old customer on a date at the restaurant. They were initially reported missing and their bodies were found dead three days later on March 29 in the debris of the explosion and fire in the 121 Second Avenue building.
The FDNY's Fire Marshals, the NYPD's Arson and Explosive Unit, the New York City Department of Investigation, and the Manhattan District Attorney's office all conducted investigations into the incident. Detectives were proposing to charge the parties responsible for the explosion with criminally negligent homicide. In 2016, four people were indicted for manslaughter: Maria Hrynenko, the building's owner and her son Michael (now deceased), Athanasios Ioannidis, an unlicensed plumber, Dilber Kukic, a general contractor, and one for record tampering, Andrew Trombettas, a licensed plumber.
Officials focused on plumbing and gas line work that was done in the 121 2nd Avenue building, and they were looking into whether a gas line in the building, meant only for the restaurant on the first floor, was tapped into inappropriately. There were no permits issued for work to be done at 121 2nd Avenue after November 2014, according to the New York City Department of Buildings.
Two roommates who subletted an apartment at 129 2nd Avenue—three buildings away from one of the collapsed structures—reportedly planned to sue the city for $20 million each.
Indictments and arrests
On February 11, 2016, Cyrus Vance, Jr., the District Attorney for New York County (Manhattan) announced the indictment and arrest of five people in connection with the explosion, including building owner Maria Hrynenko and her son; a plumber who used his city license to allow others to do work for him; the unlicensed plumber who did the work; and a contractor, Dilber Kukica. The charges included manslaughter and negligent homicide. According to media reports, the indictments claim that the explosion was the result of an illegal scheme to tap a legal gas line serving the ground-floor restaurant to provide gas service to the renovated apartments on the floors above. Although lawyers for the indicted people were not immediately available for comment after the announcement of the indictments and arrests, earlier, a lawyer for the building owner had blamed Con Edison for the blast, saying that "They should have shut off the main valve."
On November 14, 2019, Maria Hrynenko, 59, Athanasios "Jerry" Ioannidis, 63, and Dilber Kukic, 44, were found guilty in State Supreme court in Manhattan of manslaughter and other charges. Michael Hrynenko Jr. had also been charged, but died while awaiting trial. Andrew Trombettas, a plumber who sold his credentials to Ioannidis, pled guilty to lesser charges in January 2019.
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