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NYPD investigators searching for evidence still unable to reach basement of East Village building that exploded

On the scene at 121-123 Second Avenue in

On the scene at 121-123 Second Avenue in Manhattan, where a ruptured gas main caused a massive explosion, on Saturday, March 28, 2015. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Police arson and explosive experts still can't get into the basement of the East Village building that exploded last Thursday as they search for evidence of what caused the blast, a top NYPD official said Wednesday.

The gas explosion destroyed the building at 121 Second Ave. as well as two others. Two young men were killed and 22 people were injured in the blast. Investigators are looking into the possibility that illegal tapping of a gas line to give tenants service caused the blast.

Wednesday night, the medical examiner's office identified the second body found in the rubble Sunday as Moises Ismael Locon Yac. Officials identified the body of Nicholas Figueroa, 23, Monday.

They have searched the cellar of a destroyed building at 119 Second Ave., NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said Wednesday at a news conference with Commissioner William Bratton and other top police brass.

Boyce said that immediately after the explosion, detectives checked for possible problems and criminality in previous projects by the contractors and subcontractors doing plumbing work at 121 Second Ave. when the building blew up. Boyce didn't elaborate on what the review uncovered.

Con Edison inspectors had visited the site about an hour before the explosion and found that work done on a new gas meter wasn't up to code.

A new three-inch gas line at the building wasn't cleared for service and wasn't working, a Con Edison spokesman said, although a smaller one-inch line to service a first floor Japanese restaurant was functioning.

The utility spokesman Wednesday denied a statement by a law enforcement source to Newsday that evidence of gas line tampering at 121 Second Ave. was detected by Con Edison inspectors during the final inspection before the explosion.

Indications of tampering were "not evident to us," said utility spokesman Philip O'Brien.

If such evidence had been noticed, Con Edison would have shut down all gas service to the building immediately, O'Brien said.

The source said there was evidence of gas line tampering and specifically mentioned a pipe clamp. O'Brien said there was a "clasp" holding up the unused 3-inch main but said there was no evidence of tampering of that line inside the building.

A gas mechanic would have to turn on the gas line from outside the building line, he said.

Investigators are also looking for evidence that tenants in 121 Second Ave. were told in the hours before Con Edison arrived on March 26 to expect a temporary shut-off of gas service and to not tell the utility they had gas, the source said.

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