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Eight dead after New York City blast, building collapse

Fire fighters on East 116th street pour water on an apparent building explosion fire and collapse in the Harlem section of New York City, March 12, 2014. 
CREDIT: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR
Fire fighters on East 116th street pour water on an apparent building explosion fire and collapse in the Harlem section of New York City, March 12, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR

(Reuters) - Search and rescue workers on Friday combed still-smoldering rubble for survivors of a New York City gas explosion that caused two apartment buildings to collapse this week, killing eight people and injuring dozens.

Authorities toiled overnight, parsing a smoking pile of bricks and twisted metal - at one point three stories high - in an effort to find any remaining victims.

The explosion at about 9:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday shook the East Harlem neighborhood shortly after a resident complained to the Con Edison utility about a gas odor.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which reviews natural gas-related accidents, had said it was having trouble getting close enough to examine the main pipe that supplies natural gas to the Upper East Side neighborhood.

When firefighters deem the area safe, investigators will conduct a pressure test on the pipe to determine the location of the leak that may have caused the blast.

"We have eight victims found at this point. We are still in rescue, recovery operations," New York Fire Department spokesman Brian Norton said on Friday morning. "We do not stop until we are 100 percent sure there is nobody left."

Search and rescue efforts will continue on Friday even though there are no known victims still missing, police said.

Five women and three men were killed, police said on Friday, but not all victim identities have been released. The latest victim was female and pulled from the rubble late on Thursday.

The dead include Griselde Camacho, 44, a public safety officer for Hunter College in East Harlem; Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist; Rosaura Hernandez, 21, and Andreas Panagopoulos, 43.

At least three children were hurt; two were treated for minor injuries and released, while a third was in critical condition, hospital officials said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has said 40 people were injured, though he declined to say how many remain unaccounted for. Police earlier said five people are still missing.

The two buildings in a largely residential block at East 116th Street and Park Avenue housed 15 apartments, a ground-floor church and a piano store.

Passersby in the primarily Latino neighborhood donned dust masks or wrapped winter scarves around their faces to limit inhalation of dust and smoke.

The main, low-pressure gas distribution line that runs along Park Avenue was still intact, the NTSB said. Service lines carry gas into buildings from that main pipe.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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